COVID-19 vaccine and kids: What parents should know

Teenager Maliyah Rather holds her mom

Maliyah Rather, 14, holds her mother’s hand while she receives the first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Chicago Medicine on May 13, 2021. It was the first day adolescents could receive doses of the vaccine, following emergency use authorization by the FDA.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old. These vaccines are widely available across the Chicago area, including here at the University of Chicago Medicine. To schedule a vaccine appointment for yourself or your child, call 773-834-8221.

Here is what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, including when pharmaceutical manufacturers expect the vaccine to be available for those younger than 12.

Is the number of doses and timing for this vaccine different for this age group than for adults?

No, the dosing and timing of the vaccination for the 12-15 age group is no different than that for adults. Like adults, they will need two shots, given about three weeks apart, and then wait two weeks to be considered fully protected.

Are the side effects the same for kids?

Yes, the range of side effects has proven to be similar to what has been seen in adults receiving the vaccine: soreness at the injection site, fatigue, chills, fever and headaches. Though the side effects are more pronounced after the second dosage, they have shown to last only a day or two.

Can children still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated?

Yes, there is no vaccination that is 100% effective, so children could still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated. Like vaccinated adults, if children do become infected with COVID-19, they are less likely to get severely ill. It's important to note that, while severe illness among children who contract COVID-19 is rare, more data are needed to determine the longer-term physical, emotional and mental health impact of those who were infected as children.

Why can't kids under 12 get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The current vaccines have not been approved for children younger than 12. Studies are underway to test the safety and efficacy for children 6 months to 11 years old. It is also important for the vaccine manufacturers to establish the optimal dosage for children in the younger age group that balances effectiveness and side effects. Pfizer expects to have results from these studies later this year, with hopes of authorization to use this vaccine in young kids in early 2022, if not sooner.

What is different about research methodologies when testing vaccines for children?

Because children are at different stages of development throughout childhood and adolescence, a number of factors are considered when testing safety and efficacy, such as the child’s weight and dosage tolerability. Manufacturers must figure out the dose that provides enough protection without too many side effects.

If children get the vaccine now, will they still be protected by the start of the school year?

We do not have a definitive timeframe for how long immunity will last; however, to date, studies have shown high efficacy levels over a six-month period. Ideally, those who are in the 12 to 15 age range should get both doses of the vaccination early enough to be fully vaccinated two weeks prior to the school year.

Allison Bartlett, MD

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS, specializes in the medical management of acute and chronic infectious diseases. She also is working to improve the safety and efficacy of antibiotic use in children.

Learn more about Dr. Bartlett.
COVID-19 vaccination record card with vaccine viles and needle

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