Tuesday, May 21, 2024

What to Know About the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Children Under 12

What to Know About the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine for Children Under 12

Here's what you need to know about the Pfizer vaccine for kids under 12 - including its side effects.

We’re all pandemic-weary and ready for this thing to end. And vaccines against the coronavirus offer hope: They’ve been distributed for nearly a year now and are a safe and effective way to reduce severe infections and hospitalizations with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

But everything we knew about the vaccines through the summer of 2021 - even as our information grows and changes by the day - primarily applied to adults and kids over age 11.

Parents of younger children have been left to anxiously await news on whether any vaccines would be approved for their children and, if so, when.

That’s all changing. Pfizer submitted initial data to the FDA on its vaccine trials for kids ages 5 to 11 in September 2021, and the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine could be approved for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) in the coming weeks, with shots going into arms sometime this fall.

Understandably, though, parents have questions and concerns about the safety and necessity of a COVID vaccine for kids ages 5–11. Here’s everything you need to know.

Can children get COVID-19?

Yes. In the early days of the pandemic, no one was sure if kids could really get sick or, if they did, what that looked like.

But by April 2020, it was clear that children could also develop COVID-19, even though they seemed to do so at lower rates than adultsTrusted Source.

To date, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that more than 5.8 million kids have tested positive for COVID-19. For the last week of September 2021, children represented roughly 1 in 4 of all COVID-19 cases across the country.

Can children get severe illness or even die from COVID-19?

Yes, but it’s rare.

According to the AAP, the vast majority of kids who develop COVID-19 have only mild illness - symptoms similar to the common cold or flu. (Think congestion, sore throat, fatigue, mild fever, runny nose, and so on.)

That said, serious illnesses aren’t unheard of. For example, hospitalization ratesTrusted Source for children rose sharply over the summer thanks to the spread of the Delta variant.

Kids with underlying health conditions are most at risk of developing COVID complications and needing hospitalization, though some healthy children have required hospitalization for symptoms as well.

Less than 600 children ages 18 and under have died of the virus since the pandemic began, meaning the COVID-19 fatality rate for children is extremely low.

Can children spread COVID-19?

Yes. Since the start of the pandemic, whether or not kids could spread COVID-19 (and if so, how likely they were to do so) has been debated, partly due to the sheer lack of information we all had early on.

Currently, though, the CDC confirmsTrusted Source that children can definitely transmit the infection, though potentially less frequently than adults.

This is true whether kids are symptomatic or asymptomatic, however no one is entirely sure how much asymptomatic spread is happening among children (or adults, for that matter).

Many of the studies being released also present complex data. For example, a Canadian studyTrusted Source suggests that younger kids are more likely to transmit the virus within the home than older kids, but an Israeli study suggests that children 10 and under are not very likely to spread COVID-19 within a school setting.

In short, we don’t know how well kids can transmit the virus, but we do know for certain that they can, especially in the home.

Research on kids and the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Trials began in March 2021 to study the effects and safety of the Pfizer vaccine in kids ages 5 to 11.

The dosage given included two doses of 10 micrograms each, 21 days apart. In all, about 4,500 children were enrolled across four countries - the U.S., Finland, Poland, and Spain - in 90 different vaccination sites.

To measure the antibody response, Pfizer studied the geometric mean titer (GMT) present in participants 1 month after they received the second dose. Pfizer found the GMT to be statistically similar in kids ages 5 to 11 as it had been in people ages 16 to 25.

The side effects were also found to be similar to that age group.

Expected timeline

Pfizer submitted their trial data to the FDA on September 28 for kids in the 5 to 11 age group. The FDA has announcedTrusted Source an advisory committee meeting to review this data on October 26.

It’s unclear at this time how many weeks there will be in between that meeting and the presumed EUA allowing for distribution of the vaccine to kids ages 5 to 11, but some experts are expecting children in that age group to begin getting shots between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Other COVID-19 vaccine options for kids

At this point, Pfizer is the only imminent option in the United States for kids within the 5 to 11 age range to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Moderna is also running clinical trials within that age group, but they’re on a different timetable and their data isn’t expected until a bit later in the fall or even early winter.

Johnson & Johnson is also reportedly planning to run trials in kids under age 18, but they haven’t offered any timeline for when that might be happening.

Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in kids 12 years and over; only people 18 years and older are eligible to receive the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Safety of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in kids

Unofficially, clinical trials have shown the Pfizer vaccine to be both safe and effective when used to prevent COVID-19 in kids ages 5 to 11.

The FDA hasn’t released any statements on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy yet because it hasn’t met to review and discuss the trial data. But on September 20, 2021, Pfizer released a press statement expressing confidence in their vaccine’s ability to create a “robust” antibody response in children ages 5 to 11 after two doses of the vaccine are administered 21 days apart.

The CDC recommendsTrusted Source that children ages 12 and over be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine because the benefits far outweigh the small risk of serious side effects.

Essentially, the vaccine is considered safe for use in kids ages 12 and over, and most experts expect a similar safety assessment to be given for kids under 12.

Side effects of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in kids

Like with any immunization, your child may have some side effects after getting one or both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is because vaccines cause the body to create an immune response (which is a good thing!), but this may come with mild side effects.

Common side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine may include:

pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site
fever and chills
muscle or joint pain

These side effects are considered mild and typically resolve within 24 to 48 hours of receiving the vaccine. You can ease your child’s discomfort by:

giving them over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen
offering them plenty of liquids
allowing them to get some extra rest
using an ice pack to relieve injection site tenderness

Yes, it’s perfectly fine to give your child a pain reliever after the vaccine if they’re uncomfortable, but it’s generally not recommended that you “pre-dose” your child with a pain reliever before the shot. This could dull the immune response and lower the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Rarely, the vaccine can cause more serious side effects in both adults and children.

There have been reports of adolescents, especially boys, experiencing a type of cardiac inflammation called myocarditis after receiving the vaccine. This is being closely studied and monitored in the clinical trials, and this particular side effect is still considered extremely rare. (And it’s important to note that myocarditis is also a known complication of COVID-19).

That said, if your child experiences chest pain, shortness of breath, or increased heart rate within a week of receiving the vaccine, seek emergency medical attention.

It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, though those are most likely to occur within the first 15 minutes.

In most settings, your child will be monitored on site for 15 minutes before being released, to make sure an allergic reaction doesn’t occur (and, if it does, it can be treated promptly).

If side effects exist, and the illness is typically mild in children, why vaccinate my child at all?

There are no risk-free choices when it comes to COVID-19.

Yes, there are potential side effects to your child receiving the vaccine, but there are also potential side effects to your child getting COVID-19.

These side effects may be rare in both cases, but the side effects of COVID-19 can be unpredictable and long-lasting, with healthy kids unexpectedly requiring hospitalization or needing months to fully recover from their illness.

In general, side effects of the vaccine are mild and short-lived. Vaccines are generally eliminated from the body quickly, and side effects are almost never observed for any vaccines past 8 weeks.

Getting your child immunized against COVID-19 also helps reduce the spread of the virus to immunocompromised and unvaccinated people.

The longer the virus moves about our communities, the more potential mutations may develop that would be more harmful to both children and adults.

The takeaway

Everything we know so far about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 is similar to what we know about it for kids ages 12 and up, and adults.

It appears to be extremely safe and effective when given in two doses 21 days apart, carries a mild side effect profile, and stimulates a strong antibody response.

If you have questions or concerns about getting your younger child vaccinated against COVID-19 once the vaccine is authorized by the FDA, talk with your child’s pediatrician.


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