Twenty-eight million of America’s youngest residents are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to help slow the spread of the deadly disease.
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Children ages 5 to 11 can now receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine following approval for emergency use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and authorization by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Earlier this year, the agencies approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use in children ages 12 to 15 and fully approved for those 16+. (The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still only available to people ages 18 and over.)
“Vaccination has proven to be one of the best ways to slow the spread of the virus,” says pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano, MD. “We encourage everyone who is eligible, including children, to get vaccinated.”
She explains what vaccine eligibility means for this new age group, in particular.
Q: Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children?
A: Yes. COVID-19 vaccines have been through rigorous clinical trials designed specifically for children. Because children’s immune systems are different than adults and change as they age, vaccines are being tested and approved for different age groups.
“They are safe and effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” says Dr. Giuliano.
The COVID-19 dose for children ages 5 to 11 is smaller than what has been approved for those who are 12 and older. It will be delivered by needles and stored in orange-capped vials to avoid a mix-up with the larger doses.
Q: Why should your child receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Having as many people as possible vaccinated against COVID-19 is the most effective way to control the pandemic.
While it’s true that children have generally had milder cases of COVID-19 than adults, kids can and have become severely ill. In addition, children who recover from COVID-19 may suffer from prolonged symptoms just like adults.
Children can develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) following a COVID-19 infection. MIS-C is associated with a surge of inflammation of the blood vessels, specifically with the heart and coronary arteries.
“The dangers are very real,” says Dr. Giuliano.
Vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds also moves the country closer to getting the pandemic under control. Children who are infected can transmit the virus to someone else, putting those they are closest to at risk.
“Vaccines are the best way to protect your child, your community and your loved ones from the disease,” says Dr. Giuliano.
With this expanded eligibility, an estimated 94% of the total U.S. population is now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: Could your child have side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Maybe. Children are susceptible to the same side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine as adults, but they’re generally mild. They include:
- Soreness at the injection site.
- Body aches.
As in adults, serious side effects in children are rare.
There are reports of myocarditis and pericarditis — an inflammation of the heart muscle and capsule — following vaccination with mRNA vaccines (such as Pfizer’s). Young males appear to be more at risk for this rare complication.
If it occurs, it is more likely to happen within a week after the first dose or following the second dose. The majority recover without aftereffects.
“It is important to note that the risk of getting myocarditis from the vaccine is extremely low,” says Dr. Giuliano. “Children are more likely to get myocarditis from a COVID-19 infection than from the vaccine.”
Q: Will the COVID-19 vaccine impact your child’s future fertility?
A: No. Some parents have worried whether the COVID-19 vaccine might affect their children’s reproductive capabilities in adulthood, but doctors say this concern isn’t backed by science. “There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects a person’s fertility,” Dr. Giuliano says.
In fact, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine encourages everyone, including pregnant women and those who hope to become pregnant in the future, to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Q: When will younger children be vaccinated?
A: While there’s no clear-cut timeline yet, some drug companies are expanding their vaccine clinical trials to include younger children and babies as young as 6 months old.