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5 Questions About COVID-19 Vaccines for Young Children, Answered

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Parents of roughly 20 million of our country's youngest children have been stuck in a holding pattern when it comes to getting their kids vaccinated against COVID-19.

Finally, that wait is over.

The FDA and CDC have granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for children 6 months of age and older.

Still, parents likely have questions about these shots.

Dr. Ashley Drews, medical director of infection prevention and control at Houston Methodist, has answers.

Do young children really need to be vaccinated?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more than 2 million COVID-19 cases have been reported among young children.

"Children are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19 than adults, but there is still a risk," says Dr. Drews. "Additionally, young children can spread COVID-19 while ill, even if the infection is mild or they're asymptomatic."

For this reason, the AAP released a statement this weekend supporting the decision to make COVID-19 vaccines available to the nation's youngest children, stating: "Pediatricians know the power of vaccines to protect infants, children, adolescents and entire communities against deadly and debilitating infectious diseases."

You can think of vaccinating your child against COVID-19 similar to the other pediatric immunizations he or she receives.

While most of the diseases such vaccines prevent are no longer common causes of life-threatening illness in kids, it was the vaccines that reduced the threat — and help ensure your child stays healthy.

Should I get my child vaccinated if he or she has already had COVID-19?

It's estimated that 75% of children have had COVID-19. A third of the infections occurred during the winter omicron surge, and the current wave is likely leading to more infections in young children as well.

But Dr. Drews warns against relying solely on the natural immunity that previous infection provides.

"Even if your child has had COVID-19, it is still recommended that he or she be vaccinated," says Dr. Drews. "There are still too many questions regarding natural immunity to feel confident in its protection."

Plus, reinfection becomes more likely as variants continue to arise.

How do vaccines for young children differ from what parents received?

The pediatric versions of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use identical technology to what parents received, but there are differences in how these shots are administered to children under the age of five.

What to know about the Pfizer vaccine for young children:

  • Administered as three doses, with the second dose given three weeks after the first and the third dose given two months after the second
  • Immunocompromised children, on the other hand, should receive their second dose four weeks after the first and their third dose four weeks after the second.
  • Each dose is one-tenth the amount used in the adult version of the vaccine

 

What to know about the Moderna vaccine for young children:

  • Administered as two doses given four weeks apart
  • Immunocompromised children, on the other hand, should receive a third dose given four weeks after the second
  • Each dose is one-quarter the amount used in the adult version of the vaccine

 

"After the final dose, it will take another two weeks for your child's immune system to complete its work of building immunity," adds Dr. Drews. "Keep this in mind as you consider summer travel plans and camps."

Does it matter which COVID-19 vaccine your child receives?

With two options available, parents may wonder which COVID-19 vaccine to choose.

"Both vaccines provide safe, effective protection," says Dr. Drews. "There is likely no significant advantage in either of the available options right now, and I recommend getting whichever vaccine is made available to your child." 

What side effects do children experience?

The side effects most commonly reported in young children include:

  • Pain, redness and swelling at the site of injection
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Swelling of lymph nodes in the same arm or thigh as the injection (felt in the underarm or groin, respectively)

 

Children between six and 36 months also experienced irritability, sleepiness and loss of appetite.

Dr. Drews notes that these side effects tend to be short-lived and resolve by themselves.

Where can you get your child vaccinated?

"Contact your pediatrician's office to learn more about how to get your child vaccinated," says Dr. Drews.

While many adults and teens received their shots at pharmacies and vaccine events, the AAP says that pediatricians and family physicians will be the leaders in vaccinating children younger than five.

This is because pharmacies aren't allowed to vaccinate children younger than three in most states, although certain drug stores that have walk-in clinics may be able to vaccinate children 18 months and older.

By: Katie McCallum

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