With Sarasota Memorial Pediatric Hospitalist Jessie Hoang, MD
In early November, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The move came on the heels of the mRNA vaccine receiving emergency use authorization for that age group from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
This long-awaited decision to make effective COVID-19 protection available to young children sparked a flood of vaccination questions from our local parents. For trustworthy answers, we turned to our usual source: an SMH expert.
Below, Sarasota Memorial Pediatric Hospitalist Jessie Hoang, MD, addresses the most common questions we’ve received about COVID-19 vaccinations and kids.
Dr. Hoang is uniquely qualified to offer pediatric health guidance: Not only does she care for hospitalized children at SMH-Sarasota, she’s the mother of 2 children in the 5-to-11 age group and serves as the assistant clinical director for the Johns Hopkins All Children's at Sarasota Memorial pediatric hospitalist program.
“I'm really thankful that this really awful disease is now vaccine preventable, and that we have the opportunity to protect our children,” Dr. Hoang said.
But is the COVID-19 vaccine really safe for young kids? Yes.
“The vaccine has undergone exhaustive, very sophisticated research and trials, and it’s been proven to be highly effective,” explained Dr. Hoang.
"I can't say that I've ever taken care of a child in the hospital for long-term vaccine side effects, but I have certainly taken care of plenty hospitalized with COVID-19," she added. "I've experienced, first-hand, the long-term impacts of COVID-19 infection on children. I've seen heart failure, respiratory failure, encephalitis, stroke, long-haulers and unfortunately, even death.
“I’m looking forward to my own pediatrician having the COVID-19 vaccine available for my 2 kiddos and having a safe, fun holiday season.”
Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ
What You Need to Know:
Kids & COVID-19 Vaccine
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone ages 5 and older get a COVID-19 vaccine to protect them against COVID-19. Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for teens and children.
Child vs. Teen/Adult Dose
The dosage for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine varies and is based on age and immune system health.
- Pediatric dosage for younger children (ages 5 to 11): 2 shots of 10 micrograms each, given 21 days apart; this dose is one-third of the adult dose and is given with smaller needles designed for kids.
- Dosage for pre-teens, teens and adults (ages 12 and older): 2 shots of 30 micrograms each, given 21 days apart; moderately to severely immunocompromised people should get third shot at least 28 days after their second shot.
- Booster shots: A 30-microgram booster shot is recommended for fully vaccinated adults, but teens and children are not currently eligible for booster shots.
Where to Go
Some pediatrician offices and local retail pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, are now providing pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment for children ages 5 to 11. For young children, getting the vaccine at your pediatrician's office may be less stressful.,/p>
To locate a vaccination site near you, click here to visit vaccines.gov or call 1-800-232-0233.
Before You Go
- Talk to your child about the COVID-19 vaccine and why it’s important they get it.
- Help them know what to expect during the appointment.
- Unless your pediatrician advises otherwise, do not give your child pain reliever medication before vaccination.
Click here for tips from the CDC on preparing for a pediatric COVID-19 vaccination, and click here for a kid-friendly video on how mRNA vaccines work.
Why should I have my child vaccinated, if most kids have only mild cases of COVID-19?
Most children will have mild disease, but some kids will have moderate or even severe disease requiring hospitalization. Some may develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), a post-COVID disease that causes inflammation in different organs of the body. Some kids will go on to develop long-term COVID symptoms, and for others, infection will be fatal.
When you hear, “most kids only have mild COVID,” know that the word “most” doesn't mean much when it's your child who gets seriously sick.
More than 580 children have unfortunately died from COVID-19 so far in the pandemic, and over 8,300 children in the 5-to-11 age group have been hospitalized. Now, thanks to a highly effective, safe vaccine being made available to children ages 5 to 11, those tragic deaths and hospitalizations are preventable.
What side effects are typical in younger kids who get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine?
The most common side effects we see are pain at the injection site, fatigue and headache. Some children do have fever, but it resolves after a few days.
There have been no reported cases of myocarditis in the vaccine trials for children ages 5 to 11.
In contrast, the risk of myocarditis from becoming sick with COVID-19 is much, much higher in this age group. I've actually seen myocarditis and heart failure in children this age who had COVID-19 and multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
Should I give my child Tylenol, Motrin or other over-the counter pain reliever before vaccination to prevent vaccine side effects?
Pre-medicating your child with Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen) before they get the vaccine is not recommended. But if they experience discomfort after getting the shot, symptoms like fever or pain at the injection site, you can safely give them Tylenol or Motrin to ease those symptoms. Just remember, aspirin is not recommended for children.
My child already had COVID-19. How long should I wait to get them vaccinated?
Generally speaking, the recommendation would be about 2 weeks after the onset of symptoms, it's safe to get them vaccinated — as long as the child’s quarantine period has passed and they have recovered.
My child will turn 12 soon. Should I wait to vaccinate until after their birthday, so they can get the stronger dose?
Waiting is not necessary or recommended.
The different dosages are based on the maturity of the immune system. Younger people have better immune responses to vaccines - even better than the adult population most of the time - so an 11-year-old can get as much protection from the lower dosage as an adult would from the larger dosage.
If they happen to turn 12 during the 3 weeks between the first and second doses, it's OK for their second dose to be the larger, 30-microgram dose.
Simply put, get it for your child as soon as possible. It takes about 2 weeks for a child to build immunity after getting the shot, and we want your child to be protected as soon as possible.
Can the mRNA Pfizer COVID vaccine impact fertility for boys or girls who are vaccinated?
There's no evidence or valid theories to suggest any credible risk of male or female infertility with the COVID-19 vaccine.
In fact, there's no evidence to suggest that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine that's currently in existence.
Click here for a kid-friendly video on how mRNA vaccines work.
I'm still unsure about vaccinating my child. Should I just wait a few weeks and see how it goes for other kids?
I expect that this holiday season, we'll see a surge in COVID-19, just by virtue of the increased travel. And although a lot of the population now has been vaccinated, with all of the travel, it puts unvaccinated children - especially younger children - at risk for contracting this disease.
Don’t wait to protect your child.
** NOTE: This content was published Nov. 16, 2021. Information related to the COVID-19 virus and vaccines is continually evolving. For the most up to date info, we recommend visiting the CDC’s website and the FDA website.