COVID-19 Vaccinations Now Available for Ages 5 and Up
Avera and other COVID-19 vaccine distributors can now offer vaccines to children ages 5-11. Anyone age 5 and older now can be vaccinated against the virus that has caused 3.2 million hospitalizations and 740,000 deaths nationwide.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has broadened emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11, along with endorsement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for that age group.
“This approval is an important step in protecting our entire population from COVID-19,” said David Basel, MD, Vice President for Avera Medical Group Quality, and an internal medicine/pediatric specialist.
“Young children can and do experience serious illness due to COVID. With the Delta variant we have seen children as young as 1 be diagnosed or admitted to the hospital with COVID-19,” Basel said. “We’re also seeing children with long-haul symptoms, even after milder infection.”
In many children, COVID-19 is very much like a cold or the flu. “But it can be much more serious. Those serious cases and potential deaths are what we’re trying to prevent with the vaccine,” Basel said.
COVID vaccination can protect kids from other children who come to school or daycare when sick and do not wear masks. And, getting children vaccinated helps prevent spread to younger children and babies as well as older family members and friends who are at higher risk.
The vaccine has been tested in children for safety and efficacy. Children will receive a smaller dose of the vaccine, which is one-third the size of an adult dose, in a two-shot series three weeks apart.
During a clinical trial, the vaccine was found to be 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in 4,700 children ages 5 through 11.
The vaccine’s safety was studied in 3,100 children ages 5 through 11 who received the vaccine (the others received the placebo). No serious side effects were detected in the study. Common side effects were mild to moderate and usually went away in one to two days.
These side effects included sore arm, redness and swelling, fatigue, headache, muscle and/or joint pain, chills and/or fever, swollen lymph nodes, nausea and decreased appetite. “There were actually fewer and milder side effects reported in children. They seem to tolerate it better than older age groups,” Basel said. “These short-lived side effects are a natural response of the immune system to the vaccine.”
Even if a child has already had COVID, vaccination is more effective than natural immunity. “A new study of 7,000 people shows they were five times more likely to have COVID if they were unvaccinated and had a prior infection versus those who were vaccinated,” Basel said.
Knowing the facts is important for parents when making the decision of whether or not to vaccinate their children. “It’s impossible to get COVID from the mRNA vaccine, which is just a part or segment of the virus. The vaccine does not remain in the body long-term, so there’s no need for concern about long-term side effects. And the fear that COVID-19 vaccines can cause future infertility is completely false,” Basel said.
If your child has experienced adverse reactions to vaccines in the past, consult your primary care provider before getting the vaccine.
“Millions of people across the globe have safely received the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s working to prevent cases of COVID. And in those 10% of vaccinated people who are susceptible to breakthrough cases, the illness is generally more mild,” Basel said. “I’m a dad and a pediatrician, and I have no concerns about children getting this vaccine. My concern is for those children who are not protected, in the face of the Delta variant and other variants that could appear in the future.”
The COVID vaccine can be given at the same time of other vaccines, including the flu shot. “We’re expecting a possible resurgence of the flu this year, so that shot is also important for all ages, including kids,” Basel said.
In the U.S., here’s how COVID-19 has impacted children ages 5 through 11:
- They represent 39% of COVID-19 cases in people under 18.
- 8,300 have been hospitalized with COVID-19.
- 146 have died of COVID-19.
Children in the 5-11 age range may be fearful of shots. Avera experts give these tips on how to help:
Before the shot:
- Be honest. Tell kids the shot might hurt a little for a couple of seconds, but immunizations will keep them from getting sick in the long run.
- Plan ahead. Act out getting a vaccination, or tell a story in which the child is calm and brave. Remind children that you, too, get shots. They make everyone healthier.
- Prep the shot site. Applying anesthetic cream 20 minutes before the shot can help numb the pain.
During the shot:
- Put on a happy face. Show kids that there’s nothing to fear.
- Distract during the injection. Sing or engage in conversation. Or, tell your child to cough at the moment of the injection.
After the shot:
- Manage the pain. Children’s Tylenol or ibuprofen can help ease any discomfort or swelling. Ask your doctor about what children’s over-the-counter medication might be right for your child.
- Offer comfort. Give a hug, or practice deep breathing with your child.
- Reward their bravery. Celebrate with a game, a trip to the park, or another activity your kids enjoy.
Call your clinic or go to vaccines.gov to learn more about when and where to get the COVID vaccine.