The recent news approving Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use authorization for children ages 5-11 by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may leave you with a lot of questions about what is best for your child.
Children’s of Alabama pediatricians Dr. Peily Soong and Dr. Gigi Youngblood have provided information that may help. We asked the questions, and they provided these answers.
Why do we need to vaccinate children ages 5-11, and why is it so important to make sure they are vaccinated?
Dr. Youngblood: It’s definitely important to vaccinate children in this young age group. First and foremost, receiving vaccines are how we end this pandemic. They’re crucially important for everyone affected by the pandemic. We’re losing kids. There’s a significant portion of pediatric COVID deaths that were in the 5-11 age group. We’re also seeing long term issues with these young children, including multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which is a really potentially dangerous inflammatory condition that happens after someone has had COVID. Different body parts can become inflamed, and it often includes inflammation of the heart muscle or myocarditis. We feel children deserve protection from these things just as much as everyone else.
How is this vaccine different from the vaccine that may be offered to people 12 years of age and older?
Dr. Soong: It is different because it is a smaller vaccine dose, about a 1/3 of the dose given to the 12-year-old to adult group. The 12-year-old to adult dosage is 30-microgram. The smaller dose for children 5-11 years old is 10-microgram. Although it is a smaller dose, it has been shown to be just as effective in terms of antibody titers, which measures the antibodies in the blood. They compared the studies for the children in this younger age group to the older group, and the antibody levels were about the same in each. Researchers felt the dose should be just as effective at preventing COVID, and a very effective vaccine for all involved.
What are the potential side effects of the vaccine, and what should we know about them?
Dr. Youngblood: Clinical trials show that the vaccine is well tolerated in children. The potential side effects for younger children were fever, fatigue, headaches, and pain at the site of the injection as well as redness and swelling. These side effects are very similar to what we are seeing in adults, but probably even better tolerated in this young age group. We have also seen that the lower the vaccine dose, the lower the side effects, and about half as many children were getting side effects to the vaccine. It seems parents are most concerned about the side effect of getting myocarditis, which keeps making the news. Keep in mind that the only vaccine that’s going to be available for children 5-11 years old is the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine, and there has not really been an increased risk with that particular vaccine. The main thing to remember about any age group and post vaccination is even though people seem to be concerned about such things as clotting risk and myocarditis, people are at a significantly lower risk of these conditions than if they were to get the virus itself. Your child may feel a little under the weather for a day or two after the vaccine, but in terms of scary things, the vaccine there is less of a risk of developing long term side effects than taking a chance with getting COVID itself.
What is some good information for parents when making the decision to vaccinate their children, and staying healthy as we approach the holiday season?
Dr. Soong: We’re anticipating that there could be another surge of the Coronavirus as a result of holiday gatherings. Last year after holiday gatherings and through the winter months, we started seeing peaks in the spread of the virus. Children can easily spread COVID, and so it’s important to get them vaccinated to help protect, not only themselves, but others with weak immune system, the elderly, and those who are not vaccinated.
Getting the vaccine is of course a very important way of protecting your child against COVID-19, but as you’re going through the process of getting vaccinated, do parents need to take other measures, at least to a certain point in time?
Dr. Youngblood: Absolutely. When your child receives the vaccine, there are two doses of 10 micrograms given 21 days apart. It is obvious that those vaccinated do not have magical protection as soon as they receive the shots. You’re not going to reach the most effectiveness until you are fully vaccinated. The body has to build protection against the virus somewhere between one to two weeks after your child receives the second dose. This is why it’s so important that children begin the series as soon as possible before the holidays to prevent another pandemic peak. Until your child has reached that maximum effectiveness, they should continue to use a mask in social settings, and wash their hands constantly. We hope that all of us have developed the habit of washing hands as a result of this pandemic and that frequent hand washing will stay with us anyway. Also, if you or your child is not feeling well or family members are not feeling well, make sure you give full disclosure to those you love, and stay away from others until you know more about what’s going on with your child or with that loved one.
Where can people go for vaccinations? As it becomes known that Children’s of Alabama and UAB are offering the vaccine to the 5-11 age group, are there also other places you would recommend for parents to take their children to receive the vaccine?
Dr. Soong: We are always the ones that you can trust, and we take care of your children. We are very knowledgeable and a viable resource to what has been going on through this whole pandemic. Keep in mind that a good choice is also your family pediatrician. Your pediatrician sees your child on a regular basis and offers other vaccinations as well, so it is always good to ask their opinion. They may also refer you to one of the nationwide pharmacies that will be offering it to children as well.
For the more information about COVID-19, visit childrensal.org.