COVID-19 Vaccine for Children & Teens
As COVID-19 continues to spread, vaccines are the best way to prevent serious illness in people of all ages, including children. Based on available data, our health care providers and pediatricians at Cook Children’s strongly recommend that parents get children vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
With the approval of the vaccine for children 5 and up, you may have questions about this new vaccine, and we understand that. We want to answer questions, help dispel some of the myths, and address common concerns to help you make an informed decision about vaccinating your child.
COVID-19 Vaccine for 5 and Under
Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s answers some of the big questions and sheds a little light on the subject.
What is going on with the COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 5?
Last week, Pfizer asked the FDA to authorize two doses of their coronavirus vaccine for this age group. This created some confusion because the drug company released a statement in December stating that two doses did not produce the immune response they hoped for in clinical trials of children 2 to 4 years old. I think some people took that to mean the vaccine does not work for this age group, which is not the case. It means children ages 2 to 4 may need a third dose of the vaccine, but that research is still underway.
Why would the FDA authorize the vaccine before the research is complete?
The question does not appear to be whether the vaccine is safe for younger children, rather how much protection it offers. With the surge of the omicron variant across the U.S., children were impacted in higher numbers than with previous variants. Even here at Cook Children’s, we saw a record high of 69 COVID-19 patients in the hospital in just one day. That was a very high number, and we saw the impact it had on families and schools. I think the FDA is considering that some protection may be better than no protection for this age group. In the meantime, Pfizer can continue to research a third dose for children 2 to 4 years old in hopes of boosting the level of protection.
What’s the difference in the doses for this age group compared to older children and adults?
The dose for children under 5 is much lower than what’s authorized for older kids and adults. Pfizer has been testing 3 microgram doses for this age group while kids 5-11, have been authorized to receive 10 microgram doses. The dose for 12 and up (including adults) is 30 micrograms.
What’s the risk of my child developing myocarditis after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?
We’re still waiting for the FDA to release their findings, but studies have proven that COVID-19 infection is more likely to cause myocarditis than Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Many viruses, including the common cold, can cause myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart muscle. Most cases, especially in children, are mild. The risk of complications from COVID-19 infection far outweighs the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine.
Protecting our community
Protecting kids with COVID-19 vaccines protects us all. Understand why it’s important to get children vaccinated against COVID.
Helping your child prepare for a vaccination visit
For some children, getting a shot can be scary. To make your vaccine visit more comfortable, open or download these handy Comfort Menu tips and review the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccination fact sheet BEFORE your scheduled appointment.
Find a vaccine near you
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is approved for children ages 5 and up. If your child is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, please contact your local pediatrician office to schedule an appointment.
The COVID-19 vaccine is also available at many local pharmacies and in supporting locations across Tarrant County. Use the Tarrant County COVID-19 Vaccine Finder (tarrantcounty.com) to find a location that's convenient for you.
Texas Health and Human Services offers many sites to help you find a vaccine near you. Click the options below to find a vaccine for you and your family:
- National Vaccine Finder: Use vaccines.gov to find a location near you, then call or visit the location's website to make an appointment.
- Retail Pharmacies List: Check your local pharmacy's website to see if vaccine appointments are available. To find out which pharmacies are participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, click here.
- Find Vaccines By Phone: Do you know someone who is eligible for a vaccine but doesn't have internet access, Please let them know they can call (833) 832-7067 for referral to a local vaccine provider.
- Americans can also text their ZIP code to GETVAX (438829) in English or VACUNA (822862) in Spanish to immediately receive address of nearby available vaccination centers.
- Antibodies: Blood proteins produced in response to and counteracting a specific antigen.
- Antigen: A toxin or other foreign substance which generates an immune response in the body, especially the making of antibodies.
- Appendicitis: An inflammation of the appendix, which is a small tube leading off from the intestine.
- Lymph: A colorless fluid containing white blood cells, which covers the tissues and drains through the lymphatic system into the bloodstream.
- Lymph nodes: A number of small swellings in the lymphatic system where lymph is filtered and lymphocytes are formed.
- Placebo: A harmless pill or injection given during a clinical trial that may affect the mental and emotional state of a person but not the physical body.
Referenced source: Merriam-Webster
Frequently Asked Questions
Right now the only vaccine approved for children and teens younger than 16 is Pfizer/BioNTech. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) authorized this vaccine for emergency use in May 2021 for adolescents ages 12 to 15, and November 1, 2021 for children ages 5-11
Moderna is conducting clinical trials with children ages 12 to 17 for its vaccine.
Moderna is also conducting trials with children ages 5 to 11. Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have announced that they are enrolling younger children (ages 6 months to 4 years) in a separate clinical trial.
The FDA will review the data from these clinical trials as soon as it’s available. Then they will decide whether to grant emergency use authorization (EUA) for one or both vaccines in younger children.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that is currently available for children is approved by the FDA for “emergency use authorization,” or EUA.
The FDA can issue EUA for medications and vaccines during a public health emergency. EUA is
- There are no adequate, approved medications available to address the emergency
- The medications or vaccines granted EUA can treat, diagnose or prevent serious illness
Vaccines with EUA are rigorously tested to make sure they are safe and effective. Over 118,000
adults participated in clinical trials for the three vaccines available:
- Pfizer/BioNTech: 43,000
- Johnson & Johnson: 45,000
- Moderna: 30,000
Manufacturers also enrolled thousands of children and teens in the current trials for vaccine authorization in younger age groups.
The FDA usually wants to look at one year of data when it decides whether to approve a vaccine. They wait this long because they want to observe the people in the trials to check for adverse reactions. Most vaccines never need EUA because they go straight to the approval stage after collecting at least one year of data.
However, during the COVID-19 public health emergency there was a significant benefit to the public to have a vaccine available sooner. EUA made it possible to offer vaccines without waiting for a full year of observation.
On August 23, 2021, the FDA issued full approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people aged 16 and older.
On November 1, 2021, the FDA issued full approval for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people aged 5-11.
Whenever a vaccine or other medication comes to market, it is natural for parents to be concerned and cautious about giving it to children. There is also a lot of confusion and misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines. We want to provide you reliable information so you can make the best decisions for you and your child.
The timeline for developing the COVID-19 vaccine was much faster than a typical vaccine, which can sometimes take several years. To have a new vaccine in less than a year is very quick compared to other examples of vaccine development. But that does not mean that the COVID-19 vaccine was rushed or is not safe.
There are several reasons manufacturers could bring this vaccine to market so quickly:
- COVID-19 was new, but the virus that causes it is part of a family of well-known coronaviruses that scientists have studied for many years.
- For more than three decades scientists have studied mRNA vaccine technology for diseases like flu, Zika and rabies.
- Public interest and national attention helped researchers enroll thousands of people for clinical trials quickly. This step usually takes much longer.
- The U.S. government set up manufacturing and distribution channels while clinical trials were underway to speed up production once a vaccine was available.
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has information about two separate studies related to fertility and COVID-19 vaccines. In the studies:
- 4,800 women had a positive pregnancy test after receiving the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
- More than 1,000 women became pregnant after getting both doses of an mRNA vaccine, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Health care professionals have administered more than 391 million vaccine doses in the U.S. so far, with over 185 million people fully vaccinated. There is no evidence of any added risk of infertility for men or women after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
As with all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine does have some reported side effects, including myocarditis or pericarditis (heart inflammation). Males aged 16 to 30 are at the highest risk of experiencing this side effect.
More than 11 million adolescents have been fully vaccinated. The CDC reports that for every million doses given, there have been 67 cases of heart inflammation in boys 12 to 17 and 56 in those aged 18 to 24. Overall, the risk is very low compared to the benefit of protecting against the effects of COVID-19.
Talk to your child’s doctor about the risks of heart inflammation. Common symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Heart fluttering or beating very fast
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms most often occur within seven days of receiving the second vaccine dose. If your child has any of these symptoms, make an appointment with the doctor. Almost all myocarditis cases are mild and resolve quickly when treated.
There have also been some allergic reactions to vaccines. This occurs in only two to five people per million vaccine doses. It is extremely rare. After getting a vaccine, we monitor your child in the clinic for 15 minutes to make sure they do not have a reaction.
No. Your body uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to provide instructions to your cells. The mRNA molecules tell your cells to make the spike protein that is present on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Your body recognizes it as a foreign protein and creates antibodies to fight the virus. Once the mRNA molecules deliver the message, they break down inside your body.
DNA is stored inside the nucleus of your body’s cells. This mRNA cannot get into the nucleus and can never interact with DNA.
It might be helpful to think of mRNA in another way:
- Snapchat: mRNA is like a Snapchat message. It goes into your body, shows the message to your immune cells, then disappears. The immune cells now have the tools to make proteins and antibodies to fight the virus if they ever encounter it.
- Email instructions: mRNA is like an email sent to your body’s immune system with instructions on how to make proteins that help you fight COVID-19. Once your cells “read” the instructions, your body deletes the email and starts making the proteins.
With kids back in school, they are in settings where they are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. The delta variant spreads rapidly, and it’s more contagious and more likely to affect children.
The longer people wait to get vaccinated, the more opportunity the virus has to spread. Viruses that spread also tend to mutate and create new variants. Getting vaccinated is the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19.
If your child is not yet eligible for a COVID vaccine, there are steps you can take to keep them safe. Have your child:
- Wear a mask whenever they are indoors or in crowded places.
- Maintain social distance (approximately six feet apart), especially indoors.
- Avoid indoor activities whenever possible, such as dining in restaurants, playing sports inside or going to indoor play areas.
- Keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth.
- Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
Be sure to keep your child home from school or activities if they have symptoms like cough, shortness of breath or fever. You should also have them tested for COVID-19.
If you still have questions, talk to your pediatrician or doctor at Cook Children’s for more information about vaccine safety and benefits. When your child is eligible, we can provide vaccines to keep them as healthy as possible.