The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for children over 4, and parents naturally have lots of questions about it. To clear up some common inquiries and misconceptions about the new vaccine, Scary Mommy hosted a live talk with experts, called COVID-19 Vaccine & Young Kids: Separating Fact from Fear.
Moderator Micaéla Birmingham spoke with epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Lee Savio Beers about the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine and the facts and myths surrounding it. Read on for the most common questions and concerns that parents had about vaccinating their kids—
When will I be able to get my younger kids vaccinated?
On Tuesday, an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted to recommend Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine to kids ages 5 to 11. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimously approved the recommendation on November 2nd, and it was quickly endorsed by CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, M.D., M.P.H. the very same day.
Providers are now authorized to begin immunizations for this age group.
“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19,. We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine. As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”Dr. Walensky released a statement following her approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11.
Dr. Jetelina urges parents to reach out to their pediatrician or local pharmacist to verify if and when they’ll have the pediatric dose of the COVID-19 vaccine available. Shipments will be sent in cases of 300 vaccines, so very small or rural pediatrician’s offices may not be able to take this large quantity.
And what about even younger kids? For kids under 5, Dr. Beers says the data is already being reviewed using the same standard process as the other age groups. That data should be available around the end of this year, and the vaccine is expected to become available sometime during early 2022.
Where will I be able to find the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine?
According to Dr. Beers, the pediatric vaccine will be distributed at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and local health departments, among other places. You can call your child’s pediatrician or go to vaccines.gov to find locations near you that are offering the COVID-19 vaccine. You can also text your zip code to 438829 (English) and 822862 (Spanish) to find vaccine providers near you, and coordinate a free ride to a provider.
Kids aged 5-11 will need two doses (just like adults and adolescents), given three weeks apart. Full immunity is achieved two weeks after the second dose. Each dose for 5-11 year olds is about ⅓ of the dosage given to adults and kids age 12 and up. Pfizer and BioNTech’s pediatric doses will come in vials with orange caps, while the vials for those 12 and up have purple caps.
Remember, no matter where you go to get it, the vaccine should be totally free to you and your family (regardless of immigration status)!
What do we know about the safety of the vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccine is based on technology that’s been safely in use for decades. Research into mRNA vaccines, the basis for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, started back in 1961, and the first clinical trial for the flu vaccine (which the COVID-19 one is, in large part, modelled after) was in 1991. Scientists and researchers simply applied their existing knowledge to the new coronavirus.
Dr. Jetelina also explains how unprecedented it is in the scientific community for so many government and private resources to be pooled into a single effort—in this case, to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. Also unprecedented was the rate at which people volunteered for clinical trials. Between the use of existing technology, the unique global teamwork in the scientific community, and the large number of trial volunteers—the COVID-19 vaccine was able to be developed safely and effectively in a remarkable amount of time from the outbreak of the virus.
Is there a link between vaccines and fertility or reproductive health?
Both doctors affirmed that there is NO link between vaccines and fertility issues; the biology behind the vaccine does not interact with the reproductive system.
There have been some anecdotal reports of people’s periods being affected after getting vaccinated, but any changes in menstruation resolve quickly and appear to be related to the immediate side effects of the vaccine rather than the vaccine itself. Dr. Beers explained that, much like someone’s menstrual cycle can be thrown off when they get a cold, or train hard for a marathon—the temporary side effects of innolucation that many folks experience (like a slight fever, aches, and chills) can impact their cycles as well. These side effects are temporary and mild.
Are there any long-term effects of the vaccine?
In short, as James D. Campbell, M.D., M.S., FAAP, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Infectious Diseases, stated at a town hall meeting last week, “We’ve never had a vaccine that has ever had a long-term side effect that we didn’t discover early on.”
Dr. Jetelina explains that any adverse effects of new vaccines tend to occur within six to eight weeks after inoculation. This is in line with what we’ve seen in the case of the new COVID-19 vaccines—with the rare incidents of blood clotting in mostly young adult women who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and cases of myocarditis in mostly school-age and teenage boys.
Even with these extremely rare cases of severe side effects, Dr. Jetelina urges parents to remember that the potential severe and long-term effects from becoming infected with COVID-19 are much worse. In fact, myocarditis is itself a possible symptom of COVID-19 and tends to become more severe and last longer in COVID patients than in folks who have been vaccinated. While risk of myocarditis is low for kids overall, the risk is 30 times higher in COVID patients, giving kids under 16 with COVID the same risk rate as people over age 75.
Beyond these rare cases, there is no reason to believe that there would be longer-lasting impacts of the vaccine, because mRNA vaccines degrade too quickly in the body to warrant concern. Additionally, researchers will continue to maintain active and passive surveillance systems monitoring trial subjects as an extra safety measure.
If my child is nearly twelve or big for their age should they hold out for the adult dose?
Dr. Beers recommends getting your child whichever vaccine is available to them as soon as you can. The vaccine dosage is based on a person’s immune response, which is more related to their age and the maturity of their immune system rather than their physical size.
Does my kid have natural immunity, and is that different than immunity from a vaccine?
At this point in the pandemic, over 10 percent of new cases are among children. Over six million kids have had COVID-19 so far, with tens of thousands hospitalized, and hundreds of children who have lost their lives. While it’s true that it’s possible to gain some level of natural immunity from contracting the virus and recovering from it, Dr. Jetelina explains that in actual practice it’s totally random who gets immunity and how long it lasts. The risks of developing severe or long-term side effects from COVID-19 are far greater than the possible protection a child could gain from any natural immunity through contracting the virus.
The fact is, the vaccine does provide a form of natural immunity to the body—and it does so in a uniform, targeted way that provides the highest level of protection possible against COVID-19. That’s why, even if your child has already had COVID-19, they should still receive the full vaccination schedule once they’ve tested negative.
Why is it important to vaccinate children when most only experience mild symptoms?
First and foremost, kids can unfortunately become very ill, suffer long term health effects, and even die from COVID-19. COVID-19 was the eighth leading cause of death in kids between 5 and 11 in the past year. The vaccine is far safer than infection.
Another great reason to point out is that unvaccinated kids can spread COVID-19, even in cases that are asymptomatic. So vaccinating them is a huge step toward protecting your community. Widespread vaccination in children and adolescents is critical for the safe reopening of schools and a return to other pre-pandemic activities.
There are people in my life who are still hesitant about vaccinating their kids. What should I tell them?
According to Dr. Jetelina, about 30 percent of vaccine hesitant people have changed their minds and gotten vaccinated because of conversations with close family and friends. You can be that difference to someone you care about. Share these frequently asked questions with them, along with scientifically-backed resources like Immunize.org and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Kids make up about 25 percent of the US population, which means that vaccinating them against COVID-19 will make a huge difference in reducing the spread of the virus in the general population. More importantly, it will keep kids healthy which means they get to stay in school and keep doing the activities they love.
For more information about the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, follow the latest updates from the CDC.
Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.
For ongoing updates on coronavirus-related issues and questions that impact children and families, please find additional resources here.