COVID-19 vaccination and young children: What to know

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Elementary-aged children around the country are now eligible to receive a kid-sized shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 

The doses are about one-third of the dose given to adolescents and adults.

While Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still being tested for children ages 5-11, last month the FDA affirmed results from Pfizer showing that its two-dose shot was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in young children. 

While the Pfizer trial had some post-shot reactions, including sore arms and fatigue, 5- to 11-year-olds were less likely to have fevers and the FDA found no safety concerns.

Pfizer has said that it expects to make 19,000 shipments, or about 11 million doses, in the next several days. Millions more will be available to order on a weekly basis.

Although children are less likely to suffer severe COVID-19 infections, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Dr. Anthony Fauci notes that the delta variant infects kids and spreads “just as readily” as in adults.

Since the pandemic began, at least 94 children have died from COVID-19, more than 8,300 have been hospitalized and over 5,000 have developed a serious inflammatory condition linked to COVID-19. Black and Latino children, as well as those with chronic conditions, are disproportionately affected by the virus.

Matthew Cushman, 7, receives his COVID-19 vaccination at the Salt Lake County Health Department Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, in Salt Lake City. 
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome can hit kids several weeks after recovery from even a mild infection, as well as “long COVID.” 

In addition, heart inflammation has occurred mostly in young men or teen boys, usually after the second dose – though patients tend to recover quickly. Doctors say COVID-19 infection can cause more serious heart inflammation. 

Children who have already been infected by COVID-19 should still receive vaccinations once they’ve recovered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

While prior infection provides some protection against another case, immunity can vary depending on how seriously ill someone was and how long ago they were infected. 

Researchers have found that vaccination after COVID-19 infection can boost protection for adults.

“COVID-19 vaccines have undergone – and will continue to undergo – the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. Vaccinating children will help protect them from getting COVID-19 and therefore reducing their risk of severe disease, hospitalizations, or developing long-term COVID-19 complications. Getting your children vaccinated can help protect them against COVID-19, as well as reduce disruptions to in-person learning and activities by helping curb community transmission,” the CDC said in a Tuesday news release.

“We know from our experience with the Delta variant that this virus is unpredictable, and we cannot afford to be complacent. It is critical to use science and data to guide our decisions about the pandemic and school COVID-19 plans,” American Academy of Pediatrics President Lee Savio Beers said in a Tuesday statement. “We have also entered flu season, and now have an opportunity for children to receive vaccinations for both the flu and COVID-19, which can be done during a single visit.”

The CDC says COVID-19 shots can be administered at the same visits as vaccines for the flu.

Both flu shots and COVID-19 shots are available at pharmacies across the country and COVID-19 vaccines are being offered at pediatricians’ offices, health clinics, hospitals and schools.

Pfizer and Moderna are now testing low doses of their vaccines in children younger than 5 years old.

President Biden said Tuesday that the CDC’s decision to sign off on the Pfizer vaccine was a “major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus.” 

It will parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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