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COVID-19 Vaccines & Boosters for Kids Ages 5 to 11: What Parents Need to Know

May 23, 2022 - Katie McCallum

Your child's safety is always top of mind, so you may have questions about how to best protect your kids from COVID-19.

In Nov. 2021, the FDA and CDC granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11.

Last week, this EUA was extended to include a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine for kids in the age group.

Here's what you need to know as you prepare to get your child vaccinated or boosted:

Do kids really need to be vaccinated?

"Young children are less likely to become severely ill with COVID-19 than adults, but it happens," says Dr. Drews.

And, just as with adults, the COVID-19 vaccine can prevent children from getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

"Just as we've seen the benefit of vaccinating adults and teens, getting young children vaccinated will be an important step in protecting your family and community," Dr. Drews adds.

And, now, this protection extends beyond your child's initial vaccine series, too. As COVID-19 cases again rise in various areas of the country, the CDC is now recommending booster doses for kids ages 5 to 11 who received their primary vaccine series at least five months ago.

Boosters are important because they help prolong protective immunity in kids who responded fully at first, but there's evidence that protection is declining after some time. (Related: How Do You Know If You Need a COVID-19 Booster Shot?)

Which COVID-19 vaccine is for kids?

For now, the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for kids is Pfizer's mRNA vaccine. Moderna is also examining the safety and effectiveness of its vaccine in adolescents, but this trial is still ongoing.

"In addition, parents of children under the age of 5 will have to wait a bit longer before their children are eligible for vaccination. Pfizer is expected to have trial data for this age group ready for FDA and CDC review at the end of 2021," says Dr. Ashley Drews, medical director of infection prevention and control at Houston Methodist.

How many doses doses my child need to be protected from COVID-19?

"Similar to adults and teens, Pfizer has developed its primary vaccine series for children to be administered as two doses given three weeks apart via an intramuscular injection," says Dr. Drews.

For kids who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, an additional dose (or, third shot) is needed 28 days after the second dose to complete the primary vaccination series.

And five months after this initial vaccine series, the CDC is recommending an additional dose for all kids ages 5 to 11 — a booster dose.

With summer camps and vacations right around the corner, be sure to consider your plans when scheduling your child's first shot or booster dose.

"After their second dose or booster, it will take another two weeks for your child's immune system to complete its work of building immunity," adds Dr. Drews. "This is also important to keep in mind as you consider whether it's safe to travel or see vulnerable loved ones." 

Will kids get a smaller dose?

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 is a smaller dose — one-third the amount in the vaccine for adults and adolescents, in fact. While adults and teens receive a 30-microgram dose, the dosage for kids will be 10 micrograms.

"Children have very active immune systems, so it's unsurprising that a smaller dosage is still able to induce a protective immune response," explains Dr. Drews.

Pfizer has indicated that, at this smaller dosage, data show that the vaccine is both safe and effective in kids, mounting a similar antibody response to what's seen in adults with a similar side effect profile. In fact, the company reported data showing that its vaccine had a 90.7% efficacy rate in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in a clinical trial of children ages 5 to 11.

Are the side effects similar for kids?

Yes. The company stated in a recent press release that the side effects for kids ages 5 to 11 are comparable to those seen in teens and young adults ages 16 to 25.

The most common side effects of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine are:

  • Pain, redness or swelling at the injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Muscle and joint pain

"If you're worried about side effects, reactions or just have general concerns about vaccinating your child, consult your pediatrician. He or she can help you understand the benefits and risks," recommends Dr. Drews.

Can my child get a flu shot at the same time, or do we need to wait?

You may be wondering if it's safe for your child to be vaccinated for both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

"It is safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine with most other pediatric immunizations, including your child's annual flu shot. The exception to this is with the chicken pox and measles vaccines. These will need to be given several weeks before or after the COVID-19 vaccine," says Dr. Drews. 

Does my kid still need to get vaccinated if he or she has already had COVID-19?

Immunity is complex, and it's easy to think that having natural immunity (from a recent infection) is enough. However, case reports and studies show that reinfection with COVID-19 is possible. The good news is that it's less likely for a person to get reinfected if he or she gets vaccinated after having COVID-19.

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

Like adults, kids who have COVID-19 can get vaccinated as soon as they've recovered and ended their isolation.

 

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