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What Parents Need to Know


At long last, elementary school-aged children can get immunized against COVID-19. On November 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in kids who are 5 to 11 years old. 

“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,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “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.”

While some parents are fully on board with vaccinating their kids ASAP, others have questions about the shot’s safety and possible side effects. Here’s a look at everything we know so far, plus why it’s so important for kids to get their vaccines as soon as they become eligible. 

Who is currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?

There are three COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnon/Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccines are authorized for emergency use in adults 18 and older, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those 16 and older, and is now authorized for emergency use in those 5 and up.

Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is available to those in the 5- to 17-year-old age group.

Although there are still many unknowns, children 4 and under will likely have to wait a little longer to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer is still studying the shot in little ones ages 2 to 4, and expects trial results before the end of the year. The company is also currently conducting a trial with children ages 6 months to 2 years old.

Top questions about the COVID-19 vaccines for children

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for kids?

Yes. As with all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine has gone through a meticulous research and approval process to ensure its safety for both adults and children. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the COVID-19 vaccines have had “the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.” And since December 2020, over 423 million doses of the vaccine have already been administered.  

In clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds and 12- to 15-year-olds, the vaccine was shown to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. The most recent FDA approval in younger kids was based on a clinical trial of about 4,600 youngsters and found that a two-dose vaccine was safe in this age group as well.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has pushed for rigorous studies in children so we know the vaccine is safe, effective and the right dose,” says Jen Trachtenberg, M.D., assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and spokesperson for the AAP. 

Experts expect that the clinical trials looking at the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in toddlers and babies will yield the same results.

There’s also no need to worry that the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will change your child’s DNA. mRNA is unable to enter the nucleus of the cell, where our DNA lives, plus, the mRNA is broken down by the body shortly after a person is vaccinated, the CDC says.

If you’re wondering how the vaccine safety could have been determined in such a short timeframe, that’s understandable. Going from having no vaccine to immunizing people in under a year is pretty fast! But experts stress that the speed was the result of people and organizations working together to reach a goal that needed to be achieved as quickly as possible — not by cutting corners. 

“Because we’re in a pandemic, there was basically no downtime between different phases of trials, and money was made available to move things along,” explains Dr. Trachtenberg. “They didn’t cut corners. It was done to the same high standards.” 

Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective in children?

Yes. Just as with adults, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been shown to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in kids as young as 5. It provided about 90 percent effectiveness against contracting COVID-19, similar to efficacy rates in older kids and adults.

Experts can’t yet say for sure exactly how effective the vaccines will be in younger kids. But it’s likely the shots will offer a similar degree of protection. And with studies already underway in children as young as 6 months old, we should learn more in the next few months. 

Can the COVID-19 vaccine give my child the virus?

No. The COVID-19 vaccine works much like other routine immunizations that children receive every day. It contains molecules with a set of instructions that teach the immune system to make its own protective antibodies to fight the germs that cause the virus, says the AAP.

But those vaccines don’t contain the actual virus itself, says Rajeev Fernando, M.D., an infectious diseases consultant at FEMA emergency field hospitals nationwide and a member of the What To Expect Medical Review Board. “So there’s a zero chance of someone getting COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine.”

If a child (or adult) feels a little under the weather after being vaccinated, that doesn’t mean they have COVID-19. Instead, they’re experiencing normal side effects that can develop as the immune system kicks into high gear to launch a protective response against the virus, the CDC notes.

Should my child still get the COVID-19 vaccine if they already had COVID-19?

The CDC stresses that everyone eligible for the vaccine should get it, even if they already had COVID-19. Right now, that includes all children ages 5 and older. 

It’s true that the body has some protection from COVID-19 after having been infected. But experts don’t know for sure how long that protection actually lasts. Protection from the vaccine typically leads to a more consistent antibody response, the CDC says.

“A vaccine is the only certain way to give you lasting, durable protection,” says Dr. Fernando. 

What side effects might my child experience after getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

Clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds and 12- to 15-year-olds showed that these age groups had similar side effects as 16- to 25-year-olds, such as sore arms or fevers.

As with adults, the most common side effects in adolescents and children are a sore arm, fatigue, headache, chills, fever and muscle and joint pain, particularly after the second dose, the FDA notes. Side effects don’t seem to be stronger or more prevalent in kids, and many haven’t had side effects at all. 

As with other vaccines, it’s possible for a child or adult to experience an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 shot. These reactions are extremely rare, but when they do occur, its usually shortly after being immunized. That’s why everyone who gets the vaccine needs to wait 15 to 30 minutes before leaving the facility where they received the shot. If an allergic reaction happens, it can be treated quickly with medication.  

As for longer-term side effects? In general, monitoring of other vaccines shows that side effects tend to occur within six weeks of being immunized, and the CDC expects the same to be true for the COVID-19 vaccine. If a parent has any concerns after their child has received the vaccine, they should check in with their pediatrician.

Why is it so important for children to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

First and foremost, it’ll protect your child’s health. “The vaccine is the best way of not getting COVID-19,” Dr. Trachtenberg says.  

It’s true that kids are less likely to get seriously sick compared to adults. But they can still contract the virus and spread it to others, even if they don’t show symptoms.

“COVID-19 affects all ages,” Dr. Fernando says. And in rare instances, kids can develop severe complications that require hospitalization, intensive care or a ventilator, the CDC notes. Babies under 1, in particular, seem to be at higher risk of serious illness. 

And considering the effect the pandemic has had on kids’ daily lives, vaccination offers more than just physical protection. While more than six million children have been infected with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the AAP, they’ve also suffered in many other different ways.

“We’ve seen the toll this has taken on kids’ mental health,” Dr. Trachtenberg says. “We really want children and adolescents to return to normal as much as possible, to be able to do their activities and socialize with friends indoors, and feel confident at school.”

Vaccinating your child also protects others in the community who may not be able to get immunized, says Dr. Fernando. That includes kids under 5 and babies who aren’t yet eligible. In order to reach herd immunity — where enough of the population is immune to the virus to stop its spread — at least 70 to 85 percent of people will need to be vaccinated, experts have estimated. And we can only reach that threshold by immunizing both adults and kids.

In short? “Vaccinations save lives,” Dr. Fernando says. “It’s the only way we’re going to get out of this pandemic.” 

Can my child get the COVID-19 shot at the same time as another vaccine?

It’s perfectly fine for your child to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as another routine vaccine (or shortly before or after), influding the flu shot, the CDC says. 

“Kids have gotten behind on their immunizations because of the pandemic, so there’s no problem with getting another shot at the same time,” Dr. Trachtenberg says. “There are no increased risks for side effects from getting the COVID vaccine along with another vaccine.”

What else should parents know about the COVID-19 vaccine for children?

There are a few important things to keep in mind. First? When your child does get her COVID-19 shot, resist the urge to let her go back to life-as-normal right away. It takes about two weeks after the second shot for the body to build up full protection against the virus, the AAP notes.

Last but not least, continue to take precautions if your child isn’t yet eligible for the vaccine.

“The virus is still circulating in the community,” Dr. Fernando warns. “As more adults get vaccinated, that’s when people who haven’t been vaccinated can pick up the disease and spread it.” 

In other words, just because case rates are improving overall doesn’t mean that your unvaccinated infant or toddler isn’t still vulnerable. So keep following the same safety protocols you’ve been taking throughout the pandemic — including having your child wear a mask if she’s over the age of 2, wash her hands and practice social distancing. The more we stay vigilant now, the sooner we can all get back to normal. 





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