Got COVID-19 vaccine questions for your 12- to 15-year-olds? We've got answers

  • Rene Sarmiento, 17, of Lombard and a student at Glenbard West, gets a COVID-19 vaccine. Federal authorities approved COVID-19 vaccinations for kids ages 12 to 15 this week.

    Rene Sarmiento, 17, of Lombard and a student at Glenbard West, gets a COVID-19 vaccine. Federal authorities approved COVID-19 vaccinations for kids ages 12 to 15 this week. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, April 2021

 
 
Updated 5/13/2021 8:56 AM

With approvals from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control panel of experts Wednesday and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Monday, Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine is now available for ages 12 through 15.

"As a pediatrician and as a mom, I am so excited," said Dr. Shelly Vaziri Flais, who practices with Pediatric Health Associates in Naperville. "It is much needed," added the American Academy of Pediatrics member.

 

"When you look at all the data, it is extremely safe and incredibly effective," said pediatrician Michael Bauer, medical director at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.

But for many parents, there are questions about where to get a vaccine, how effective the Pfizer/BioNTech shot is, and whether there are side effects. Here's what experts advise.

Q. Do I have a choice of vaccine?

A. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one approved for children age 12 through 17 in the U.S. The vaccine requires two shots three weeks apart. Trials are ongoing with Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for use with adolescents. Both are now approved for people 18 and older.

Q. How effective is the vaccine?

A. "There was not a single case of symptomatic COVID-19 infection" in clinical trials among vaccinated children ages 12 to 15, Bauer said. "Right now, it is 100% effective. Is it going to remain at 100% effective? Probably not, once more and more (children are vaccinated), but it is still extremely effective."

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Q. Will it hurt?

A. "It will be like a temporary pinch," Flais said. "Some people don't even feel it." But in the hours after the shot, some kids will have redness and pain around the injection site, she added. Doctors advise against taking pain medication before the shot but watching a funny video while waiting could alleviate nerves, Flais said.

Q. What are other side effects?

A. They may include fatigue, headache, muscle aches, chills, fever, and nausea, the CDC says, but those should go away in one to two days. Pain can be alleviated with Tylenol or Ibuprofen if necessary. And, call your pediatrician if issues like headaches persist or if something doesn't seem right, Flais advised. "Listen to the little voice in the back of your brain."

Q. Is the vaccine safe for kids? I read on social media that it affects puberty hormones?

A. In Illinois, more than 4.6 million residents, including teens age 16 and up, have been fully vaccinated with no serious issues. As for puberty hormones, "There's no reason whatsoever to think about that or suspect it," Bauer said. "It's not how vaccines work."

Flais advised seeking information from reputable sources, like the AAP's Healthy Children website.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Q. Do risks of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks of not getting a shot?

A. More than 1 million adolescents have contracted COVID-19, with more than 13,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths, Bauer said. "That's more than any flu season."

While children typically contract mild cases of COVID-19, "I'm concerned about 30 to 40 years from now," Flais said. Taking the example of chickenpox, it's a "virus previously thought to be an innocent childhood virus. Decades later, we know it causes shingles."

There's also a huge mental health benefit that comes with the return to relative normalcy offered by vaccination. "Teens and adolescents thrive on peer relationships," Flais said. "Removing those abilities has been really hard on teens."

Q. Where can I get a shot for my kid?

A. Illinois' mass vaccination sites, along with Cook, DuPage, Lake and Will counties, have said they are ready to offer shots to kids ages 12 to 15 beginning today. Walgreens, Osco and CVS pharmacies also said they are taking appointments. A number of school districts are ramping up vaccination efforts. Other entities offering shots are Advocate Aurora Health. Some pediatricians' offices are still coordinating logistics for storing the Pfizer vaccine.

Parents or guardians must accompany children.

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