At long last, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 5 to 11. Vaccinating this age group could be a game changer for the pandemic.
“It just adds one more layer of protection,” says Dennis Cunningham, M.D., medical director of infection control and prevention with Henry Ford Health. “It means our upcoming holidays will be that much safer. We know a lot of these COVID-19 outbreaks are associated with children being in school, so the fact that younger school-age children can get vaccinated could really lower the amount of cases we’re seeing.”
Rest assured, the Pfizer vaccine is safe for children ages 5 and up. It has been tested in thousands of children (not to mention adults—it has been almost a year since the Pfizer vaccine was first authorized for the general population) and it has been proven to be effective.
Here’s what to know about the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 5 to 11.
Facts About The Pfizer Vaccine In Kids Ages 5 – 11
- The Pfizer vaccine is the only authorized vaccine in the United States for children ages 5 to 11. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are conducting vaccine clinical trials and will likely receive emergency use authorization in the coming months.
- In children ages 5 to 11, the Pfizer vaccine has a 90.7% efficacy rate against infection. That's around the same efficacy rate as it is in adults.
- The Pfizer vaccine is given in two doses, spaced three weeks apart. The dose is a third as large as the dose that’s given to kids 12 years and older. “This is partly because kids ages 5 to 11 have more robust immune systems, and partly because they are smaller in general,” says Dr. Cunningham.
- Side effects after vaccination include chills, fatigue and injection-site pain. They should go away within 24 to 48 hours. (Side effects may be milder for children ages 5 to 11 than they are for adults.) If your child does experience side effects after vaccination, you can give them Tylenol. But don’t give it to them before vaccination—only after, and only when they experience pain—as it could blunt the immune response.
- It is safe for children to get their COVID-19 vaccination at the same time as other vaccinations. (If they haven't gotten the flu vaccine yet, now is a good time to do so!)
- Children who are immunocompromised should definitely get vaccinated. While they may not receive as much protection as children with healthy immune systems, they will likely receive some protection. (It’s also important that people around them get vaccinated, to “cocoon” or protect them from COVID-19 transmission.)
- We’re not yet sure how long protection after vaccination lasts in children. “There are long-term clinical trials that are determining this right now,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Children under 12 typically have better immune systems, so they may not need boosters. We’ll have to see what the data shows.”
How do we know the Pfizer vaccine is safe for kids ages 5 to 11?
Before the FDA can issue an emergency use authorization, a vaccine must go through a rigorous vetting process. The Pfizer vaccine was studied among thousands of kids ages 5 to 11 and has been proven to be safe. The exact dosage was studied and the interval between doses was studied.
“The Pfizer vaccine has also been given to hundreds of millions of people around the world, safely and effectively,” says Dr. Cunningham. “mRNA technology (which is what the Pfizer vaccine uses) has been used for decades in other treatments. There are no long-term health effects to worry about.”
In pediatric clinical trials, there have been no cases of myocarditis, a rare heart condition that a small amount of people have experienced after vaccination. (Myocarditis seems to be more common in adolescent and young men, says Dr. Cunningham, and has been more common with Moderna than Pfizer. However, it is a very rare side effect in general—and the risk of heart inflammation after contracting COVID-19 itself is much higher than it is after vaccination.)
Why should my child get vaccinated?
Some parents might wonder whether it’s worth getting their children vaccinated, since kids aren’t as affected by COVID-19 as adults. “While this is true, children have been hospitalized with COVID-19,” says Dr. Cunningham. “And kids who have mild cases can still transmit it to their parents and grandparents, who are more vulnerable. The benefit of vaccination greatly outweighs the risk.”
In fact, the CDC reported that 645 children have died from COVID-19 in the United States. In children ages 5 to 11, there have been 1.9 million cases of COVID-19. More than 8,300 of these children have been hospitalized, and there have been at least 2,316 cases of MIS-C, a life-threatening condition in which multiple organs (such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain) become inflamed.
Vaccinating children also means they can maintain their routines, socialize with friends, and stay in the classroom. “Socialization and school are key for children and their mental health, and vaccines are key to allowing this,” says Dr. Cunningham. “And the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely it is that new variants will come up that will be resistant to our current vaccines."
Are there any children ages 5 to 11 who shouldn’t get vaccinated?
Any child who has had an allergic reaction to a vaccine in the past, or who is allergic to any of the ingredients in the currently authorized vaccines, should have a thorough discussion with their pediatrician before deciding whether the vaccine is safe for that child.
What about children younger than 5 years old? When can they get vaccinated?
“By next spring, children ages 4 and younger may be able to get vaccinated,” says Dr. Cunningham. “Clinical trials are currently being conducted in ages six months to 4 years old, so it may not be too much longer before a COVID-19 vaccine is available for this age group—getting us even closer to ending this pandemic.”
Henry Ford Health will offer the vaccine for children who are established Henry Ford patients in our family medicine and pediatrics clinics later this month. You will be able to schedule an appointment for your child using MyChart. For the latest updates, visit henryford.com/coronavirus/vaccine-faqs.
Dr. Dennis Cunningham is the medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health.