The COVID vaccine is now available to the youngest age group of children, ages 6 months old and older.
This means, all children ages 6 months and older are now eligible to get the COVID vaccine if their parents or guardians decide that is the best choice for their family.
While some parents who were anxious to get their young children vaccinated, there is still some hesitation among others.
We get that. Asking questions is a good thing.
We are once again turning to Dr. Allison Messina, the chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to get answers to some of the most common questions about the COVID vaccine for you.
Are you recommending the COVID vaccine for the youngest age group of children, ages six months and older?
Dr. Messina: I recommend the following approach to vaccinating children of any age: First, understand the recommendations of the authorities on the subject. In pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is where most of us turn to for recommendations on vaccines.
The AAP is right now recommending vaccination for all eligible children based on available data and research.
Secondly, parents should then discuss these recommendations with their child’s pediatrician to make the decision if vaccination is appropriate for their individual child.
Where should parents go to get their child who is 6 months or older vaccinated?
Dr. Messina: For most children, the first stop should be at their pediatrician or healthcare provider’s office. Many pediatricians’ offices have all the recommended pediatric vaccines available.
If they do not, they can likely direct parents to the appropriate alternative place to go in their area.
Which COVID vaccines are available and how many doses will they need?
Dr. Messina: There are two brands of COVID vaccine available for children: Moderna and Pfizer.
The primary series for the Moderna vaccine is 2 doses.
The primary series for the Pfizer vaccine is two OR three doses, depending on the age of the child (children six months to four years will need three doses of the Pfizer vaccine to complete the primary series, whereas children five-17 years old will need two).
Is one vaccine better than the other?
Dr. Messina: Both vaccine products have been determined in scientific studies to meet the strict safety and efficacy measures set forth by the FDA and CDC.
What side effects should we be aware of?
Dr. Messina: The side effects seen in the pediatric age groups were typically mild and self-resolving and were similar to those seen in older children and adults. Typical side effects included: pain at the injection site, fatigue, body aches, headache and fever. These symptoms typically last 24-48 hours. Side effects were more common after the second dose than the first.
Does my child really need to get the vaccine if they have already had COVID?
Dr. Messina: Yes, it is recommended that even if a child has had COVID-19, the vaccine can provide added protection. For children who have recently been infected with COVID-19, their next dose of vaccine can be given three months from when symptoms started, or three months from when they tested positive if they had no symptoms.
One argument against vaccinating the youngest children is that there isn’t the evidence to support getting them vaccinated. Is this a legitimate argument?
Dr. Messina: Prior to any vaccine or medication being approved by the FDA and recommended by the CDC, it must undergo extensive study to determine efficacy and safety. The COVID-19 vaccines were no exception.
The studies conducted by the scientists with Pfizer and Moderna were required to have quality evidence to support the use of these products. The FDA sets strict guidelines for the type of evidence and the amount of evidence needed for approval. The COVID-19 vaccines met these standards.
Is COVID still impacting young children or have they fared pretty well?
Dr. Messina: When compared to adults (and especially older adults), children thankfully fared well. But, COVID-19 still caused many thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths even in the pediatric age group since the pandemic began.
COVID-19 ranked among the top ten causes of death for children in the past two years*.
*Source: Flaxman S, Whittaker C, Semenova E et al. Covid-19 is a leading cause of death in children and young people ages 0-19 years in the United States. medRxiv 2022.05.23.22275458; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.05.23.22275458
What about my older child. Should I schedule a COVID booster appointment?
Dr. Messina: Boosters can continue to provide older children with protection against COVID-19 disease and have been recommended for this use. Parents should talk with their child’s pediatrician about the benefits of booster doses for their child.
What’s the best way to go about testing my child for COVID if I suspect they may have it?
Dr. Messina: There are many options for testing these days. Home tests are available now for free through government entities or can be purchased in pharmacies. These tests are called “antigen tests”.
They offer results quickly. However, these tests may not be as sensitive to picking up disease. So, if a home test is negative, it may be wise to get a second test called a “PCR test” at a medical facility to verify results.
Is there anything else you want to add? We know new flu vaccines are due out in a few months too.
Dr. Messina: The flu vaccine should be given every year to children six months and over to protect them from influenza.
Although we had been having mild flu seasons early on in the pandemic, it seems that influenza is on the rise again, unfortunately. Flu vaccines are usually updated in August or September, just in time for school.