The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children five to 11 years old. This is a fantastic development and one that many parents and caregivers have been eagerly waiting for. No child should ever have to suffer from a vaccine-preventable disease, and that’s exactly what COVID-19 is.
I’d like to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about the vaccine, and I hope it will help you feel informed and confident about having your children vaccinated.
1. Does COVID-19 affect children?
Yes. When COVID-19 initially emerged in the U.S., it seemed to mainly impact older adults and people living in long-term care settings. But that’s no longer the case.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of October 14, 2021, more than six million cases of COVID-19 infections had been reported in children in the U.S. Almost 250,000 of those cases were in Pennsylvania, representing more than eight percent of children in our state.
2. Can children get seriously ill from COVID-19?
Yes. While most children only get mild symptoms or none at all, some are not so lucky. As of October 20, 2021, 442 children between the ages of five and 18 died from COVID-19 in the U.S.
COVID-19 is especially dangerous to one in four children in America who have underlying medical conditions such as congenital heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, or neurological disorders.
Some kids also get “long-haul COVID-19,” meaning they are still having symptoms weeks or months later.
3. Can infected children spread COVID-19?
Yes. Whether symptomatic or not, infected children are able to transmit COVID-19 to those around them. Most schools are open for in-person learning now. This brings so many kids so close together that it’s a “perfect storm” for COVID-19 transmission — to each other and to school teachers and staff.
And while most elementary schools require kids to wear masks indoors, it’s difficult to ensure that everyone will cooperate at all times … especially at lunch time! So getting your child vaccinated is an excellent way to help protect them against COVID-19.
This is especially important for kids living with people whose health conditions increase their risk of serious illness. Even after being fully vaccinated, some adults aren’t able to achieve the same level of protection as others. So it’s critical to surround such individuals with people who are not likely to infect them.
4. Do children play a role in herd immunity?
Yes. The more people are vaccinated, the less opportunity COVID-19 has to spread. And therefore there’s less chance for it to mutate into other strains that could be even more dangerous than the Delta variant.
5. Should children get vaccinated if they’ve already had COVID-19?
Yes. While recovering from COVID-19 does produce some level of immunity, we don’t know how long that immunity lasts. And people who get vaccinated are better protected against new COVID-19 infections than those who’ve had it before.
6. Can the COVID-19 vaccines make children sick?
No. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is the first one to be authorized for children under 12, was tested in 2,268 children between the ages of five and 11. The children in that clinical trial showed a strong immune response and experienced only mild side effects, like those seen in older children and adults. The most common ones were fatigue, fever, and muscle aches.
Similar safety results are expected from the clinical trials of other vaccines that are currently being conducted in this age group.
Two extremely rare side effects have been noted, especially among adolescent boys and young adult men: myocarditis and pericarditis. But it’s important to remember that people are much more likely to develop these conditions from contracting COVID-19 than from being vaccinated.
7. What if my child is terrified of needles?
Lots of children are. Like vaccination against measles or mumps, vaccination against COVID-19 is so important that it’s essential to manage any stress and anxiety it may cause. Here are some tips for how to help children of all ages face this fear.
8. Does Independence Blue Cross (Independence) cover the cost of vaccination?
Yes. Independence covers the cost of health professionals administering the vaccine with no cost-sharing (copays, deductibles, or coinsurance) for all members, regardless of where the vaccine is given or if the health professional administering the vaccine is in the Independence network.
The COVID-19 Vaccines are Safe and Effective
COVID-19 does pose a danger to children ages five – 11 and to the people around them. Getting children vaccinated not only protects them from infection, but also plays an important role in reducing community spread. And the vaccines are both highly effective and extremely safe.
I urge all parents and caregivers who have children in this age range (or older) to get them vaccinated as quickly as possible. And if you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet yourself, please do!