With the vaccine for children ages 5-11 approved, the experts at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles provide guidance for families.
By Marla Lehner
For families who have waited for months for a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, the wait is over. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for this age group.
Many families are eager to have their child vaccinated, but also have questions about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. We spoke to several experts at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, including Michael Smit, MD, MSPH, Hospital Epidemiologist and Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control, and Marisa Glucoft, MPH, Executive Director of Accreditation and Licensing, Infection Prevention and Emergency Management, to answer some frequently asked questions.
Is the vaccine effective in children?
Yes. Children in the Pfizer clinical trial developed robust immune responses to protect against COVID-19. The data show the vaccine for children reduced the risk of developing a symptomatic infection by 91 percent. Also, a recent study, which includes real-world data from patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, shows a high degree of protectiveness against serious COVID-19 illness in adolescents ages 12-18 who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It was 93% effective in protecting against hospitalization. Researchers expect the same level of protection among younger children.
Is the vaccine safe?
Yes. According to the data released by Pfizer and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children. The benefits of the vaccine’s protection against the health dangers from the disease outweigh the potential side-effects from the vaccine. Children, like adults, can suffer from long COVID, which can include symptoms such as anxiety, depression, brain fog, memory loss, headaches, sleep disorders, shortness of breath, muscle weakness and more. In rare cases, children can also suffer from a post-COVID-19 disorder called multisystem inflammatory disorder in children, (MIS-C), a rare inflammatory condition that affects some children four to eight weeks after COVID-19 infection.
I thought COVID didn’t really affect kids. Is it necessary to vaccinate children?
In the beginning of the pandemic, children were largely spared the more serious consequences of the disease. But with the emergence of new strains like the Delta variant, children are getting sick more often. In fact, as of mid-October 2021, children represented 25% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Also, because children can experience long COVID, MIS-C, and can transmit it to others as well, it is much safer for them to get the vaccine.
What are the possible side effects of the vaccine?
In clinical trials, the most common side effects in children were fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and chills. According to the FDA, the data submitted by Pfizer did not include any cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that has been a rare occurrence in adolescents and young adults.
Is the dose for children the same as for adults?
No. The dosage for children ages 5-11 is one-third the amount given to adults and children over 12.
Will my child need two doses of the vaccine?
Yes, the current vaccine for children requires two doses to be given three weeks apart.
How long after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine will my child be protected?
Similar to the adult vaccine, a child will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the vaccine. It’s important for children to keep following the usual safety guidance for unvaccinated people, including masking and physical distancing.
Does getting vaccinated mean my child can stop wearing a mask?
Children should follow the same safety guidelines as vaccinated adults, based on CDC, state and local public health recommendations and regulations. For instance, if a child is at an indoor setting with a large number of people, we recommend wearing a mask. In addition, many schools and other venues around the country require masks.
Can my child still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated?
While cases are fairly rare, people can still become infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated. The vaccine dramatically reduces the likelihood of infection and greatly reduces the risk of severe disease and hospitalization.
Does my child need to be quarantined after getting the vaccine?
No, there is no reason to quarantine after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Can my child receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time?
Yes, the CDC has said it’s safe to get the COVID and flu vaccines at the same time.
Where can my child get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine?
The COVID-19 vaccine will be available at most of the same locations as the flu shot, such as at pharmacies, pediatrician offices and children’s hospitals. Visit your local public health website to find the available locations in your area. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles will have appointments available through the California public health portal, MyTurn.ca.gov.
When will children under age 5 be eligible for a vaccine?
The clinical trials for children in that age group are under way. It is expected that the data will be submitted for emergency use approval to the FDA in early 2022.