Playgrounds, schools, malls and museums — these are all places parents have been anxiously waiting to go to without worrying about the risk of COVID-19 infection for their young children. With the recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is recommended and approved for use in kids ages 5 to 11, children can soon receive the protection their parents have been waiting for.
Children ages 12 and older have been able to receive Pfizer’s vaccine since May. The inclusion of children ages 5 to 11 in the populations eligible for COVID-19 vaccination means approximately 28 million more kids in the U.S. can now be vaccinated.
“The approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 is vital to help bring the pandemic to an end,” says Dr. Howard Smart, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “Children in this age group can catch and transmit this disease, so it is important to protect them and those around them, especially as so many children have returned to classrooms and the extracurricular activities that were on hold throughout the pandemic.”
Is the vaccine safe and effective for kids?
In reviewing the data on the vaccine’s use among 5- to 11-year-olds, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) determined that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. A smaller dose — one-third of the dose given to adolescents and adults — of the Pfizer vaccine was found to be safe and effective at prompting a rigorous immune response and preventing infection, severe illness and death in this age group.
Additionally, in trials performed by Pfizer, the vaccine was well tolerated by children, with participants in the trial experiencing mild side effects comparable to those seen among adolescents. No cases of myocarditis or pericarditis — rare post-vaccine cardiac side effects seen in a small number of mostly male adolescents and young adults — were reported among this age group.
Why should kids be vaccinated?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently announced that approximately 6.4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic. California alone reported more than 685,000 cases in people under the age of 18.
Although the majority of children with COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms, some experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a rare, life-threatening condition that can cause dangerous inflammation in the eyes, skin, blood vessels and heart. Others have been left with long-term effects of the illness, and 680 pediatric deaths have been reported in the U.S.
The availability of the COVID-19 vaccine for this age group comes just as the nation heads into winter, the holidays and cooler temperatures. Parents who seek vaccination right away for their young children should be able to have them fully vaccinated — which means two weeks have passed since their second dose, given 21 days after the first dose — by Christmas, when many friends and families will be gathering.
How can children be vaccinated?
Vaccination appointments can be scheduled through MyTurn, at local pharmacies, some of which allow walk-in visits, as well as community clinics and some doctors’ offices. Parents do not need to contact a child’s doctor for approval to receive the vaccine from another source.
When it comes to children under the age of 5, drugmakers have begun vaccine trials that include babies as young as 6 months old. Pfizer announced that their trial results for children ages 2 to 4 will be available before the end of the year.
“I understand that parents may have questions about vaccination,” Dr. Smart says. “I encourage them to talk with their child’s doctor and consider the risks inherent in the activities they’d like to enjoy this holiday season, especially if they will be indoors and with people outside of their immediate family. Vaccination of everyone age 5 and up can help protect children, their loved ones and others within our community.”