Boy wearing mask

On May 10, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 12 to 15.

It became the first time a COVID-19 vaccine was authorized in children younger than 16.

Most of the people to receive vaccinations so far are adults. When the FDA first authorized the vaccines, only people ages 16 and older were eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. Only people 18 and older were eligible for vaccines developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J).

That will soon change. More children will likely become eligible to get vaccinated in the coming months. And getting children vaccinated will be an important step in ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s what you need to know about kids and the vaccine.

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When Will Children Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

On May 10, 2021, the FDA granted EUA for children ages 12 to 15 to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

At UPMC, we are working to make the vaccine available to children ages 12 to 15 as soon as possible. Visit CHP.edu or UPMC.com/COVIDVaccine for more information. Visit Vaccine.UPMC.com for instructions on how to schedule a vaccine in children ages 12 to 17 at UPMC.

The FDA has not authorized the Pfizer vaccine in children younger than age 12.

The Moderna and J&J vaccines are only available for people ages 18 and older.

Eligibility for all vaccines will likely continue to expand over the summer and fall.

“Both Pfizer and Moderna are testing COVID vaccines in children as young as 6 months of age,” says Megan Freeman, MD, PhD, fellow, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. “We should have this data later this year and then would expect a similar process of FDA review for EUA before it would be available to patients.”

Do Children Need the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Although fewer children have gotten COVID-19 than adults, they still can get infected with the coronavirus. They also can get sick with COVID-19 and can spread the coronavirus to others, even if they’re asymptomatic.

The number of infections among children is rising in the United States.

“As more older people have been able to get vaccinated in the U.S., the proportion of COVID cases in children has increased from previous times during the pandemic,” Dr. Freeman says.

“This is likely due to the easing of restrictions in many areas, an element of quarantine fatigue, and the return of activities like camps and sports.”

Most children tend to get milder symptoms than adults. But they still can develop severe illness, become hospitalized, and even die from COVID-19. Some children have developed a serious condition known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) after getting sick with COVID-19.

Getting vaccinated can help keep that from happening. As of May 12, 2021, more than 300 children have died and more than 15,000 have been hospitalized from COVID-19. Those totals are higher than the numbers of child hospitalizations and deaths from seasonal influenza, for which we recommend universal vaccination.

The vaccines are highly effective in preventing COVID-19, especially in preventing hospitalization and death. Although they do have some common side effects, those side effects are generally minor and go away within a few days. The risk of COVID-19 is much higher than the risk of vaccination.

Also, the COVID-19 vaccine is a crucial step in reaching herd immunity against COVID-19. Herd immunity means enough people are immune to a disease to stop its spread, and vaccination is one way to achieve immunity.

Scientists do not yet know how many people would need to be immune to COVID-19 to stop its spread, but estimates range from 70% to 90% of the population. To do that, many millions of children likely would need to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is another important public health tool for us to drive the case numbers down in the community,” Dr. Freeman says. “The more community protection there is from vaccination, the harder time the virus will have finding new hosts.”

The COVID-19 vaccine can help protect children from getting sick and developing long-term effects, Dr. Freeman says. It also can help protect the community from rising caseloads and may help protect vulnerable loved ones. More data will be needed to show how strongly the vaccine reduces contagiousness.

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Children?

According to reported data, the vaccine is safe and effective for children. Vaccine clinical trials in children follow the same format as vaccine clinical trials in adults, with rigorous monitoring of safety and efficacy.

The FDA reported the Pfizer vaccine showed 100% efficacy and robust antibody responses in a trial of children between 12 and 15 years old.

There have been no reported safety risks involving the vaccine in children.

Children ages 12 to 15 experienced similar side effects to young adults (ages 16 to 25). Those include:

  • Pain at the injection site.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Fever/chills.
  • Muscle/joint pain.

These side effects are generally mild and go away within a few days.

“The information that has so far been released shows that the vaccine is safe and effective in children as young as age 12,” Dr. Freeman says. “No serious adverse events were reported, and side effects, in particular for the second dose, were very similar to those seen in young adults.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is monitoring reports of the heart conditions myocarditis and pericarditis in people who received the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, especially adolescents and young adults.

According to the CDC, the reported cases were rare and happened mostly in male adolescents and young adults 16 and older. Symptoms usually presented within days of vaccination, and patients typically responded well to rest and medications.

The CDC continues to recommend vaccination for Americans 12 and older.

The safety of the vaccines will be monitored as distribution continues.

Vaccine trials are underway in children younger than 12 years old. Some trials involve children as young as 6 months old.

Will Children Get the Same Dosage of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

At this time, vaccine doses for children are the same as they are for adults. It is possible that younger children could receive different dosages in the future. However, that is not currently the case.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, delivered at least 3 weeks apart.

At UPMC, we believe strongly in the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine in ending the pandemic. We are hoping to make the vaccine as accessible as possible for children.

“We’re hopeful that this could be as easy as possible for families, which would mean wide availability through local pharmacies, pediatricians, or vaccine clinics at convenient sites,” Dr. Freeman says. “Some of this will depend on the location’s availability to safely store and administer the vaccination, as well as having staffing and logistical support. It’s too soon to say for sure how this will look in each community.”

For more information, visit UPMC.com/COVIDVaccine.

Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 in Children and Teens. Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, For Parents: Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) Associated With COVID-19. Link

Pfizer, Pfizer-BioNTech Announce Positive Topline Results of Pivotal COVID-19 Vaccine Study in Adolescents. Link

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.