What to know about COVID vaccination for kids under 5

  • A recent decision allows children 6 months to 5 years old to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the last age group to be approved for vaccination.

    A recent decision allows children 6 months to 5 years old to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the last age group to be approved for vaccination. Stock Photo

 
By Dr. Dana Vais
Ascension Illinois
Posted7/2/2022 7:00 AM

On Friday, June 17, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 5, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supporting the decision the following day.

This decision means children 6 months to 5 years can receive the Pfizer vaccine, and those 6 months to 6 years can receive the Moderna shots. This decision was made after clinical trials for both vaccines found them to be effective with no reported safety concerns and mild to moderate side effects, as seen in older children and adults.

 

Many families have been waiting for this decision and are hoping to start the vaccinations as soon as possible to make the most of the summer months together. But some may yet be hesitant.

I know how they feel. As the mother of two young ones, one under 5 years, I'm in the same boat. But before heading off on our summer vacation, I made sure my youngest received her first vaccine dose.

Below are some of the most common questions we're receiving from parents about this latest vaccine approval.

• Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for younger kids?

As with older children and the adults before them, both vaccinations for children under 5 years of age underwent rigorous clinical trials to ensure safety. Moreover, the vaccines are being monitored for safety with the most comprehensive and intense safety monitoring program in U.S. history. Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective.

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• Are there side effects to the vaccines for younger children?

There are possible side effects, just as with adults, but the benefits outweigh the risks. Reported side effects were soreness at the injection site, chills, fever and headache. Fever is often the most concerning for parents of little ones; however, it is a normal reaction and shows the vaccine is working with the child's immune system. And with over-the-counter medications, fever can be managed fairly easily.

• Should my child get the COVID-19 vaccine? What if they've already had COVID-19?

I recommend getting your child vaccinated as soon as possible, even if they've previously had COVID-19. This significantly lowers the risk of infection or reinfection and helps protect them against possible future virus variants.

And remember, vaccination protects more than your child. It protects other people's children and other family members. Vaccination remains the single best way to end the spread of the virus.

• Will the COVID-19 vaccine cause future infertility?

According to studies, the COVID-19 vaccines will not affect your child's future fertility. During the Pfizer vaccine tests, 23 women volunteers involved in the study became pregnant. If you still have questions or concerns, talk about it with your child's primary care provider.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Should any younger children not get the COVID-19 vaccine?

If your child has a history of a severe allergic reaction to any of the vaccine's ingredients, speak with their pediatrician first. But such allergies are very rare, given the makeup of these mRNA vaccines. • How is the children's COVID-19 vaccine different from the one adults get?

The vaccine for children under 5 uses a lower dose than the adult version and is administered with a smaller needle. For instance, the Pfizer vaccine is given in doses of three micrograms in a three-dose series for little ones, while adults receive two doses of 30 micrograms each. The vaccine's ingredients, however, are the same.

• Can my child get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine?

The vaccine does not expose children to the virus. Instead, it uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach their immune systems to recognize and fight the actual virus. Think of mRNA as instructions for how to make something. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, those instructions are for cells to produce the spike protein that exist on the surface of the coronavirus. This spike protein is harmless by itself, but when is appears on the surface of cells, the immune system recognizes that it doesn't belong and makes antibodies to destroy it. Those antibodies are then used to fight the actual virus if the child is ever exposed to it.

There also is an inherent gamble in taking a wait-and-see approach to vaccination. If a more powerful or contagious variant were to break out, children could be at a higher risk of severe infection or persistent symptoms.

There are approximately 17 million children in the U.S. under the age of 5, the last age group to be approved for vaccination. With each person who vaccinated, we all get one step closer to a world without COVID-19. A world without restrictions on playdates, playgrounds, sports or socializing -- a world our children need.

• Dr. Dana Vais is a mother of two and the medical director for infectious disease for Ascension Illinois.

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