Vaccine

Children 5 years old and up are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between 5 and 11 years old. On Nov. 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine for this age group.

With those authorizations, the Pfizer vaccine became the first COVID-19 vaccine available for children under age 12. About 28 million children are now eligible for the vaccine.

“We have a lot of experience with this vaccine in adults and adolescents,” says Alejandro Hoberman, MD, president, UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics. “It has been thoroughly studied in young children, and it showed the same outcome. It is safe and effective, and it will save lives.”

It is possible the vaccines developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen (J&J) could become authorized for children in the future.

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11.

How Is the COVID-19 Vaccine for Children Ages 5 to 11 Different?

The FDA and CDC authorized a smaller dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5 to 11 years old. The authorized dose is one-third the size of the dose that people ages 12 and up receive.

Data from clinical trials showed the antibody response from the smaller dose in children ages 5 to 11 was comparable to the antibody response from the larger dose in people ages 12 and older, but with fewer post-vaccination side effects.

“The vaccine for children provides the lowest dose we can give them to protect them, which is one-third the adult dose, and with the fewest side effects,” Dr. Hoberman says. “It provides instructions for their bodies to recognize the virus and help reduce or get rid of it.”

The makeup of the vaccine itself does not differ from the one for those over age 12.

Like people 12 years and older, children 5 to 11 years old must receive two doses of the vaccine for it to be fully effective. They should receive the second dose at least 21 days after their first dose.

The smaller dose also does not require deep freezing for storage.

Does the COVID-19 Vaccine Work for Younger Kids?

According to reported data, the Pfizer vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5 to 11 years old.

The vaccine is effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the more contagious Delta variant.

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Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Younger Kids?

The COVID-19 vaccine is safe. However, children may experience common side effects, including:

  • Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Chills.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea.

These side effects are like the COVID-19 vaccine side effects in other age groups. They are generally minor and ease up within a few days.

In rare cases, people have developed myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle — after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. This complication is very rare. It was seen in adolescent males with the Pfizer vaccine. There were no reports of myocarditis in the trial for children 5 to 11 years.

In authorizing the vaccine, the FDA said the vaccine’s benefits in children ages 5 to 11 outweigh any risks.

“Multiple sources of data in this country and abroad show that serious vaccine effects are very rare and that the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 far outweigh the risks, such as myocarditis,” Dr. Hoberman says.

Why Do Younger Kids Need the Vaccine?

As of Oct. 28, nearly 6.4 million children had tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association. Children represented 16.6% of total cases, the report said.

Children do get COVID-19 in lower numbers than adults, and they are at lower risk for severe illness.

However, children still carry some risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Some children who had COVID-19 later developed a serious inflammatory condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Long-term effects can occur in adults and children, even those with mild illness.

About 750 children have died of COVID-19 through October 2021, Dr. Hoberman says — a total significantly higher than seasonal flu.

“Some may say the rates are low, but in my eyes, it’s 750 too many,” Dr. Hoberman says. “Each one was a child who lost a long future and who left behind those who loved them. We need to understand that this is now a vaccine-preventable disease like measles, polio, and many other diseases that affect children. As a society, we must protect our children, and the vaccine can do this.”

Vaccination can help prevent children from developing COVID-19 infections and complications. Because children also can spread COVID-19 if they get it, vaccination can help protect other people, too.

“If there is a silver lining to this horrible pandemic, it is probably that poor outcomes or death for children who have COVID-19 is lower than for older adults,” Dr. Hoberman says. “But still, COVID-19 is among the top 10 causes of death in children. Children can have serious outcomes, and children can spread the virus to vulnerable family and community members who are at high risk for severe illness.”

Vaccinating this age group would help keep children in school and eventually relax other mitigation measures in the classroom such as distancing and masking.

When Can Kids Get the Vaccine?

With the authorization of the vaccine, distribution to children 5 to 11 years old began in November.

At UPMC, we are distributing the vaccine to children 5 to 11 years old per federal and state guidelines.

If your child is an existing UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics patient, you can schedule an appointment online or by calling the office. Learn more.

You also can schedule a vaccine appointment at UPMC by visiting Vaccine.UPMC.com or calling 844-876-2822.

If you are scheduling a vaccine appointment for someone who is under 18 years old, select a Pfizer clinic when booking online or request one when booking over the phone. A consent form signed by a parent or guardian is required for anyone under the age of 18 to get vaccinated.

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics, Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report. Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Possible Side Effects After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine. Link

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Myocarditis and Pericarditis After mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination. Link

NPR, FDA Advisory Panel Recommends Pfizer Vaccine for Kids Ages 5 to 11. Link

Pfizer, Pfizer and BioNTech Announce Positive Topline Results from Pivotal Trial of COVID-19 Vaccine in Children 5 to 11 Years. Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.