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A Guide to the COVID-19 Vaccine For Kids

A Guide to the COVID-19 Vaccine For Kids

On November 2, the CDC approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old. The step was a major hurdle in the race to slow the spread of the disease throughout the U.S.

“There are many reasons for wanting children to be vaccinated,” says Valley Health Population Health and Community Health Officer Jeffrey Feit, MD. “While it is true that adults typically have more severe outcomes from COVID-19, there have been hundreds of children hospitalized with COVID and six pediatric deaths in the Commonwealth. Moreover, no vaccine is perfect, and vaccinating our children reduces the chances that they’ll pass along COVID to a vulnerable parent or grandparent. One in 500 American children have lost a caregiver to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic and vaccinating children is an important step in preventing these tragedies moving forward.”

As a parent, you might be wondering how safe and effective this new vaccine is for your child. Perhaps you received the COVID vaccine yourself, but now that it’s time to immunize your young one, you’re just not sure.

Learning the facts before making vaccination decisions for your children is very important. Here is information about immunization for children from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Colin Greene, MD, director of the local Lord Fairfax Health District.

Why Do Children Need Vaccines?

Your child is exposed to thousands of germs every day when they eat, breathe, and put things in their mouth. Children are born with immune systems that can fight most germs, but there are some deadly diseases they can’t handle. That’s why they need vaccines to strengthen their immune system.

Most vaccines use very small amounts of antigens to help your child’s immune system recognize and learn to fight serious diseases. Antigens are parts of germs that cause the body’s immune system to go to work.

Think of it this way: getting a disease or getting a vaccine both give you some protection from getting the disease in the future. The difference is that with the disease you have to get sick to get that protection. With the vaccine, you don’t.

Why Should Children Get Vaccinated Against COVID?

Since COVID began in March 2020, nearly 700 children have died from the disease in the U.S. More than 5,000 children experienced multisystem inflammation syndrome (MIS-C), a condition in which children experience two or more organ systems failing and requiring hospitalization.

In addition, all the potential long-term effects of COVID are not known, but we do know that side effects can include tiredness and fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, muscle and joint pain, and cough.

Children should be vaccinated to protect themselves from the disease, AND to prevent them from spreading the virus to others. Children are often the driver of COVID spread.

According to Dr. Colin Greene with the Lord Fairfax Health District, doctors offer vaccination against COVID to children for the same two reasons they offer them for other diseases: to protect children from rare but serious disease effects, and to prevent them from spreading highly contagious and dangerous disease to others, especially elderly and infirm relatives and contacts.

“To protect young children we vaccinate them against a number of diseases that were once very common, and were capable of causing severe illness, disability, or death,” Dr. Greene said. “While they are now extremely rare, they haven’t been wiped out, and we don’t want them back.”

Is the COVID Vaccine Safe and Effective for Children?

Scientists have conducted clinical trials with approximately 3,000 children, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC have determined that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has met the safety and efficacy standards for authorization in children ages 5 through 11 years old.

According to the CDC, research shows that the COVID vaccine is about 91% effective in preventing disease in children ages 5 through 11.

With the data accumulated thus far, vaccines have proven to be very safe. In children 16 and younger, the risk of myocarditis, inflammation in or around the heart, is much lower after the vaccine than after falling ill with COVID.

However, since serious or rare events don’t always happen in clinical trials, scientists will continue to monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Are There Any Children Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?

The vaccine shouldn’t be given to a child with a history of a severe allergic reaction to any of its ingredients. If this is the case, your child might be able to get another type of COVID-19 vaccine in the future.

How Is the Vaccine Different Than the Adult Version?

Children 5 through 11 years old will receive one-third the dose given to adolescents and adults and will receive the vaccine with a smaller needle. Children will receive two shots at least three weeks apart.

What Are the Side Effects?

Side effects for children are similar to those experienced by adults. They include pain, redness, and swelling in the arm where the child receives the shot and tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea throughout the rest of the body.

Side effects can impact a child’s ability to do daily activities but typically go away in a few days.

How Do I Make the Vaccination Experience a Positive One for My Child?

First, talk to your child about what to expect and explain to them why they are getting the vaccine. Express confidence that the process will be a positive one. Devise a game plan before you go: let your child decide which arm they want the shot in and what they would like to do afterward as a reward. During the shot, provide a distraction for your child, perhaps asking them a question or having them count or say their ABCs.

Where Do They Offer COVID-19 Vaccines for Children Locally?

Valley Health, area school divisions, and pediatrician offices are offering vaccines.