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COVID-19 Vaccine Approved for Children Ages 5-11

COVID-19 Vaccine Approved for Children Ages 5-11

On November 2, 2021, both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have announced the Emergency Use Authorization for children ages 5 to 11 to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Torrance Memorial Pediatricians Erin Hamilton, MD, and Richard Brucker, MD, offer answers to some of the important questions regarding the authorization for children 5 to 11 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Are you recommending children ages 5-11 get vaccinated for COVID-19?

Yes, we as pediatricians understand the importance of vaccines in keeping children safe from a variety of diseases, and we are grateful to now have a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine for young children. COVID-19, especially the Delta variant, has had a profound impact on young children. Nearly 6.4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. More than 8,300 children 5-11 years old have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and of those children approximately one third require ICU admission. More than 700 children have died of the virus, making it one of the top ten causes of death for children according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Children who contract COVID-19 can also develop a complication called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or “MIS-C.” Thousands of children have been hospitalized with this condition which causes different body parts to become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. MIS-C is most frequent among children 5-11 years old and typically occurs after asymptomatic or mild infection.

As with the millions of youth ages 12-17 who have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, the clinical trial results for children 5-11 have shown positive outcomes, a robust immune response and few side effects. The benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh risks of a COVID-19 infection for children as well as adults.

My child is healthy. Why should I vaccinate my child?

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted children in so many ways. In addition to the possible increased risk of morbidity and mortality to your child from getting COVID-19, there are also many other direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children. Since this school year began, over 2,300 schools have been closed and over 1.2 million students have been estimated to be affected by the pandemic. Decreased physical activity, missed school time, missed time spent participating in extra-curricular activities, significant worsening of mental and emotional health and loss of loved ones and caregivers are just a few examples of how COVID-19 has affected so many children. When students are not able to attend school, this often results in parents being unable to go to work. Wide use of this vaccine would reduce the burden of COVID-19 in children ages 5 to 11. Using recent incidence of COVID-19, it is estimated every 1 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations in children 5-11 years of age could prevent over 50,000 cases of COVID-19, hundreds of hospitalizations and MIS-C cases in children. Vaccinating your child can make a huge impact not only in their health, but the health of our entire South Bay community.

What is the difference between the COVID-19 adult vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine being administered to children ages 5-11?

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved by the FDA and CDC for 5-11 year olds uses the same mRNA technology as the vaccine administered to adults and older children. The main difference between the vaccine given to individuals older than 12 years and the one for 5-11 year olds is the dose is lower. Children in the 5-11 age group will receive one-third of the adult dose.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children ages 5-11?

Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received the COVID-19 vaccine and data shows two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are highly effective in preventing COVID-19 hospitalization. In addition to what we have learned with other age groups, a recent study of over 4,500 children ages 5-11 also shows the vaccine is safe, well tolerated and produced a neutralizing antibody response that was 90.1% effective. What we know is the antibody response in the 5-11 age group was comparable to those in previous studies in people 16-25 years of age.

What if my child has already had COVID-19?

It is important that your child still get vaccinated. We know the antibodies do wane over time after infection with the virus. It is not surprising that, based on data from the phase 3 clinical trials, children 5-11 years old who had antibodies to COVID-19 prior to immunization developed higher levels of antibodies after vaccination, when compared with children who had negative antibodies to COVID-19 prior to immunization. While one might think this means more side effects, it is reassuring that the rates of side effects and adverse events were lower in children who had antibodies at baseline. Following the guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC, we recommend your child still receive the COVID-19 vaccine, even if he or she has already had COVID-19.

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine for children?

No serious adverse events were reported in the study of children 5-11 years of age. Similar side effects were reported for the 12-18 age group. Most common side effects reported were injection site pain (sore arm), redness and swelling, fatigue, headache, muscle and/or joint pain, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, nausea and decreased appetite. More children reported side effects after the second dose than after the first dose. Side effects were generally mild to moderate in severity and occurred within two days after vaccination, and most went away within one to two days.

Why are people talking about myocarditis as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccines?

The COVID-19 vaccines are being administered under the most intensive vaccine safety monitoring effort in U.S. history. Through this monitoring we were able to discover extremely rare adverse events. One such finding was that myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, is a very rare side effect of the mRNA vaccines. The observed risk after vaccination is highest in males ages 12-29 years old, most often noted in the older teenage years. When it happens, it most often occurs within a few days of receiving the second dose of the mRNA vaccine series. Other infectious causes of myocarditis include bacteria and viruses that cause COVID-19, the Flu, Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease, Mono, Roseola and many other common childhood illnesses. Most patients who developed myocarditis as a result of the vaccine responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly. They had a less severe course and recovered quicker than did those who developed classic myocarditis. The risk of myocarditis after receipt of a mRNA vaccine is LOWER than the risk of myocarditis associated with COVID-19 infection in adolescents and adults. This helps explain why the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. Children 5-11 years old will be receiving a dose one third of what is given to older teens, and the baseline risk of myocarditis is much higher in adolescents ages 12-17 years compared to children ages 5-11 years. During the clinical trials in children ages 5-11 years, there were no reported cases of myocarditis.

Can I let the CDC know about how my child does after getting the vaccine?

V-Safe is a smartphone-based after-vaccination health checker that helps the CDC track millions of vaccinated individuals’ experiences after having received the vaccine. If you sign up, you can expect to receive occasional check-in surveys that are very brief and will help with continuing to monitor how children do after getting the vaccine. This will help in comparing the child and adolescent experiences looking at millions of vaccinated children, rather than just thousands. If interested, you can sign up at cdc.gov/vsafe.

If I have questions about the vaccine, where do I go for answers?

Most parents have questions. We recommend parents visit online resources such as the LA County Public Health at lacounty.gov and the American Academy of Pediatrics website aap.org. Parents often turn to the internet for health information about their children, but they may not know which sites to rely on. Vaccines for Your Children | CDC is the CDC’s vaccine website just for parents. This site was designed based on research with parents and includes vaccine information tailored by a child’s age, easy-to-read immunization schedules, vaccine safety information, vaccine risks and benefits and much more. If you have additional questions, make sure to ask your doctor during your next visit.

How else can we ensure our children are safe from COVID-19?

One of the most important steps to protect children is to ensure eligible family members and adults around them are fully vaccinated. There are currently about 66 million vaccine-eligible people in the United States who remain unvaccinated. In places where vaccination rates are particularly low, those communities remain especially susceptible to additional cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Achieving a higher vaccination rate across the board is the top priority.

What’s important for parents to know about vaccines?

Vaccines are one of the biggest public health success stories in the United States. Because U.S. immunization rates are high, many vaccine-preventable diseases don’t have the visibility they once had, and many parents do not have experience with how dangerous these diseases can be.

Who should not get the vaccine?

Your child should not get the vaccine if he or she has had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of this vaccine or had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient of this vaccine. Ask your pediatrician about any immune conditions or illnesses that should be considered before vaccination.

Can my doctor give my child a medical exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Effective January 1, 2021 California passed a law requiring the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to review medical exemption requests. Under the new law, clinical staff at CDPH (a physician or a nurse) with expertise in vaccine science, including vaccine injury, will review the medical exemption. Pediatricians at Torrance Memorial Physician Network will abide by these regulations, and no medical exemptions will be submitted to CDPH without definitive and verifiable medical contraindication to the vaccine.

If your child was 5-11 years old, would you get your child vaccinated?

Absolutely. We care about your children and are advising you the same way we would advise our loved ones. Dr Brucker’s son just turned 5 years old and is now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. He will be getting the vaccine as soon as he can get scheduled.

Where can my child get vaccinated?

At this time, Torrance Memorial Physician Network Pediatric offices will not be providing COVID-19 vaccination. There will be many vaccination sites offering the pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine throughout the South Bay, including Beach Cities Health District. Several local school districts also plan to provide options for their students.

See below links to find a South Bay vaccination site for children ages 5-11

Final word..

As more eligible Californians get vaccinated, the pool of people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 and its variants shrinks. Every dose matters. Vaccination protects the individual, those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and those who are too young or who have complications making them ineligible to receive it. With the holiday season approaching, vaccinating this newly eligible age group will add a layer of protection for children and their families.