The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12-15. Clinical trials have shown the vaccine to be safe and effective for children in that age range. Previously, the vaccine was available to anyone 16 and older.
Not only is this good news for families, it's also a critical step toward ending the pandemic. Right now, people under age 18 account for one of every five newly reported COVID-19 infections.
“Vaccinating children is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and reaching herd immunity. Vaccinated kids protect not only themselves, but also their family, friends and the broader community,” said Mobeen Rathore, MD, chief of pediatric infectious disease and immunology at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. “Thorough testing and research have shown the COVID-19 vaccines adults are currently getting are also safe and efficacious for children ages 12 and above. We anticipate the data will soon show the same for even younger children.”
While FDA approval is significant, pre-teens and teens need to actually get the vaccine to make an impact on community spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, recent polls from Kaiser Family Foundation have shown only three in 10 parents of children ages 12-15 plan to get their child vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available, and 25% say they plan to wait.
Dr. Rathore has received many questions from parents about the COVID-19 vaccine and kids. Here are answers to some of the most common ones, specific to the Pfizer vaccine.
How did the trials work for children?
Beginning in October 2020, the trial enrolled 2,260 participants ages 12-15 in the United States. While there were 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the placebo group (those who did not receive a vaccine), there were no confirmed cases in the group that received the vaccine. The results show the vaccine maintained 100% efficacy in preventing COVID-19.
Why is it important to vaccinate children if most of them aren’t getting seriously ill from COVID-19?
While COVID-19 infections have overall been milder for children, some children have gotten seriously ill and have even died from COVID-19. In addition, if infected, they can still develop a serious condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
As of May 6, 2021, over 3.85 million U.S. children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and more than 400 children have died from the virus. That is greater than the number of childhood deaths during the deadliest flu season in the past 20 years.
Receiving the vaccine also helps prevent the spread to other people, who may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, like older adults or children with compromised immune systems.
The authorization of the vaccine for those ages 12-15 expands eligible recipients to about 87% of the total population.
Do children receive the same dose?
Yes, children ages 12 and older will receive the exact same two-dose regimen as adults, with 21 days between the first and second doses.
Will the side effects of the vaccine be worse for kids?
Pfizer reported the shots were well-tolerated among children in this age range, and side effects were mild and often consistent with those seen in adults. The most common symptoms include soreness at the injection site, tiredness, chills, muscle pain and headache.
“The FDA approval comes at a great time as pre-teens and teens who are vaccinated will be able to return to school safely in August, fully protected against COVID-19,” said Dr. Rathore. “This is a huge step in a hopeful direction.”