Kids and the COVID-19 vaccine: We answer questions from children and families in our community

The FDA has authorized the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11. We look forward to kids starting to get vaccinated soon, once we have recommendations for the use of this vaccine from the CDC.

Families want to know more about the vaccine for children, and of course, kids have their own questions. We sat down with Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, a pediatrician and Public Health’s Strategic Lead for COVID-19 vaccination, to help answer some of the questions from local kids and families.

Questions from kids and families in their own words:

D.S., parent: Why do you think it’s important that I get my kids vaccinated?

Dr. Mark: Most cases of COVID-19 in children are not severe, but on occasion, COVID-19 can cause serious infections that require hospitalization. In rare instances, it can be life-threatening. We had just under 950 cases of COVID-19 in youth (0-17) in King County in the last two weeks, two hospitalizations, and one death.

We also know that children can spread COVID to others if they get infected. That’s particularly a worry when they are around higher-risk groups, like grandparents, other family members, or caregivers who may have medical conditions.

The FDA found that the vaccine was very effective at preventing symptomatic illness in kids and there were no serious safety concerns. For my grandkids, I know it will be a big relief knowing that once they are vaccinated, they will be at lower risk for COVID-19 infection and the long-term effects from COVID-19.  Their parents and I do not want to see any of them end up with Long COVID symptoms.

Finally, our children have had so much to have to deal with in these past two years. It’s encouraging to see them getting back to all the activities that are so important during childhood. Going to school, seeing friends and just being a kid again without fear or anxiety is what we all want.  Vaccination will help reduce some of the anxiety that children and adults have been feeling for almost two years now as we can feel more reassured having this critical level of protection.

J.S., age 11: What is the difference, if there is any, between the vaccine for 5–11-year-olds and the one for twelve and up?

Dr. Mark: It’s a Pfizer vaccine, but it’s specific to children—it’s like how we have aspirin for adults and also children’s aspirin. The vaccine for younger kids is made the same way, but it is a smaller dose formulated for younger people and has a formula that makes it last longer at refrigerated temperatures. The dose is 10 micrograms for kids instead of 30 micrograms for teens and adults. Doctors and nurses will get bottles with orange tops so that they know they have the right vaccine to give to younger kids. Younger children, teens, and adults get two shots three weeks apart.

A.P., parent: I’m a bit unsure about getting my child vaccinated. I took my own parents to get vaccinated right away because I knew they were at higher risk. I can’t quite put my finger on why I’m a bit nervous.

Dr. Mark: I understand why you would be unsure and maybe anxious and thank you for taking the time to make sure you are doing the right thing for your child. With so much misinformation circulating, it’s important to talk with a trusted medical provider who can address your concerns.

I’d look at the safety track record of the millions of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine doses given to date. As a pediatrician, I know that children aren’t just small adults. That’s why the clinical trial for children 5-11 was so important, and why it took time for a vaccine for kids to be approved. 

The clinical trial looked at the safety of the vaccine in kids. The trial included about 2,250 children, with two-thirds getting the vaccine and the other third getting a placebo, which means they did not get the vaccine. While the clinical trial is still ongoing, and more data will be collected overtime with greater numbers, there were no cases of severe allergic reaction or myocarditis– a rare inflammation of the heart– in the three-month follow-up period after vaccination. Common temporary side effects included redness and pain in the arm where the child received the vaccine, headache, and fatigue. Studies in older children and adults have shown that the risks for myocarditis are higher in people with COVID-19 than from the vaccine.

The FDA and the CDC have several systems to continually monitor COVID-19 vaccine safety to investigate potential safety problems.

The CDC’s independent panel of vaccine experts (ACIP) will evaluate the data this week to consider the risks of the vaccine with the benefits of being protected against COVID-19 disease. Our team at Public Health will continue to share information as it becomes available.

N.S., age 8: My question is, does the COVID vaccine hurt more or less than the flu vaccine?

Dr. Mark: I know lots of kids might be wondering about that. The poke you feel from a flu shot is a lot like the poke you will feel when you get a COVID-19 vaccination. You will feel a little pinch and it will go away very fast.   You probably have had a sore arm, felt achy and maybe had a fever with other vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine can cause those same temporary feelings, and they usually go away in 1-2 days.

A.B, parent: Where will I be able to get the vaccine for my child?

Dr. Mark: There are a few more steps before the COVID-19 vaccine for kids are available, including approval and recommendations from the CDC expected this week.  There are about 183,000 five to eleven-year-olds in King County. It will take some time before there is enough vaccine available to meet the need.  Unfortunately, we will all have to be a bit patient while waiting for enough supply to arrive.

At any location, the number of appointments will depend on how many staff are available and whether they have enough vaccine available. Pediatric vaccine supply will be limited at first. When vaccine is available, it will be at:

  • Some pediatric and family practice offices and community clinics.
  • School clinics: We’re working with the school districts to set up clinics with vaccine providers. Families should look for messaging from their school or school district in the weeks to come.
  • King County’s vaccine partnership sites throughout the county.
  • Some retail pharmacies.

As we have more information about the availability of the vaccine for children, we will share about how to make appointments at our Getting Vaccinated webpage

Originally posted 11/1/21