UPDATE: U.S. health officials on Dec. 10 issued new recommendations for 16- and 17-year-olds to get their Pfizer booster shots six months after their last dose.
Children as young as 5 can now get vaccinated against COVID-19.
That opens the door for 28 million children to join the vaccination effort to protect the U.S. population from a virus that has infected more than 46 million Americans and is blamed for more than 750,000 deaths.
A reduced dose of Pfizer’s two-part mRNA vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and its advisors, and then by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its advisors.
The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, made the final decision to grant the vaccine emergency use authorization, expediting its use just like the other COVID vaccines.
Children under 5 are still waiting to get vaccinated as Pfizer conducts trials for ages 2 to 4 and children over 6 months. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also working on vaccines for children.
Here’s what the parents of Florida’s 1.7 million children ages 5 to 11 need to know:
What does the COVID situation look like for Florida kids?
Nearly 300,000 Florida children under 12 have been infected with COVID-19, according to the state’s weekly report for Oct. 22-28. That age group has had among the highest infection rates in the state since August.
About 3.8 percent of tests came back positive for kids under 12 last week. While that’s a sharp drop from the peak positivity rate of 23 percent on Aug. 19, it’s still the highest infection rate of any age group that week.
Masks are now mostly voluntary in Florida schools. If infections climb again, Tallahassee will likely oppose school districts that attempt stricter measures to curb the spread of the virus.
While children have the lowest fatality rate of any age group in Florida, there is still cause for concern. The state reported 29 kids under 16 have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. But three-quarters of them have died since June 18, while the highly infectious delta variant ran rampant.
More than 8,000 children have been hospitalized for COVID since July 15, 2020, according to federal health agency data. Severe cases of COVID-19 can lead to inflammation in the heart, lungs and other organs, a severe illness referred to as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.
Which kids are eligible to get vaccinated?
All children between the ages of 5 to 11 are now eligible for the kid-sized Pfizer dose. The regular Pfizer dose was approved for children ages 16 and up on Dec. 11, 2020, and for ages 12 and up on May 10.
Why is it important for children to get vaccinated?
Experts cite several reasons to vaccinate children. First, to protect them from the worst symptoms of COVID-19 if they’re infected. The vaccine prevented symptomatic infection in 90.7 percent of participants in the Pfizer study.
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It can also reduce the risk of severe infections, which could require hospitalization. The coronavirus can also cause neurological issues and severe heart and lung damage due to MIS-C.
None of the children who participated in Pfizer’s trial suffered a severe infection. While it’s too early to tell how effective the vaccine will be in preventing such outcomes, experts say, they predict it will be a powerful tool in preventing children from being hospitalized and dying.
Even if a child isn’t severely ill, any infection is an unpleasant experience. It means time away from friends and school, which pediatricians say kids need now more than ever.
Finally, studies indicate that vaccinated individuals are less likely to spread the virus to other family members.
Do vaccines pose risks to children 5 to 11?
No. Severe side effects from the vaccine remain extremely rare, experts said.
There is an increased risk of myocarditis, a swelling of the heart muscle, especially among adolescent boys. But myocarditis and other severe side effects remain extremely rare.
It’s too early to rule out adverse side effects completely, experts said, but none of the 3,000 participants in the Pfizer study suffered severe side effects from the vaccine.
One factor may be that children 5 to 11 are getting a lower dose, one-third of the dose that those 12 and over get.
“Parents might be a bit apprehensive considering how they felt after their vaccine,” said Dr. Purva Grover, medical director of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric Emergency Departments. “But rest assured that this is an extremely safe and efficacious vaccine with minimal side effects.”
Do children need parental permission to get vaccinated?
Yes. Florida is one of 41 states that requires parental consent for those under 18 to get vaccinated.
Can children get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot at the same time?
Yes. Just as with adults, children can get both the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot in the same visit, said Dr. Allison Messina, chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Walgreens’ website encourages getting both vaccines to reduce the spread of both respiratory illnesses.
Are Moderna and Johnson & Johnson also developing vaccines for children?
Yes. Moderna announced Oct. 25 that its vaccine appears to be safe and effective for ages 6 to 11. Johnson & Johnson is still conducting trials for its vaccine for kids 12 to 17. But only the reduced-dose Pfizer vaccine is currently approved for children ages 5 to 11.
When will children 4 and under be able to get vaccinated?
Pfizer is already moving ahead with separate trials of its vaccine for ages 2 to 4 and children over 6 months. Results from those studies could be in before the end of the year.
Are there children ages 5 to 11 who still can’t get the vaccine?
Everyone between the ages of 5 to 11 is eligible for the vaccine. Experts said children who are immunocompromised or suffer from other preexisting conditions should consult with their pediatrician before getting the shot.
Will children need a booster shot?
The guidance on booster shots is evolving and expanding, and are now recommended for all U.S. adults and teens ages 16-17.
The CDC and the FDA on Dec. 10 issued new recommendations encouraging 16- and 17-year-olds to get Pfizer booster shots six months after their last vaccine dose.
It’s the first time boosters have been recommended for minors. But experts still don’t when, or if, children ages 5 to 11 will need a booster.
The U.S. government also recommends that all U.S. adults should get a booster shot. Those who got the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines should get a booster shot six months after their last shot.
Anyone 18 or older who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine should consider getting a dose of Pfizer or Moderna’s MRNA vaccine at least two months after their first shot. They can also get a second Johnson & Johnson dose if they prefer.
Boosters were approved by U.S. health officials after evidence showed the vaccine’s effectiveness wanes months after the initial dose. But it’s too early to tell whether child immunity will undergo a similar reduction.
What can parents do to protect unvaccinated children?
The pediatricians who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times emphasized that parents should get their eligible children vaccinated as soon as possible.
But that will take a while, so in the meantime experts suggest that families continue to mask up and practice social distancing, especially in crowded indoor settings.
Children should be quarantined away from anyone who tests positive and shows symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of either person’s vaccination status, experts said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with the latest guidance from U.S. health authorities.
How can I get my child vaccinated?
Kid-sized Pfizer doses and boosters will be available wherever COVID-19 vaccines are being administered: doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your zip code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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