The Food and Drug Administration recently gave an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, in children ages 5 to 11 years. An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also endorsed the vaccine.
The vaccine for this age group is the same formula and dosing schedule as for older age groups – two doses are needed 21 days apart – but the dose is much smaller. While those age 12 and older receive 30 mcg per dose, children aged 5 to 11 will receive just 10 mcg per dose.
The data provided by Pfizer to the FDA showed that during clinical trials, young children were able to develop an effective immune response with a much smaller dose than was needed for older children and adults.
While many parents are eager to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible, availability of the pediatric vaccine will be limited at first. To see the latest information on the the pediatric vaccine, visit samhealth.org/GetTheVaccine.
Why Do Kids Need the Vaccine?
“There’s this idea that COVID-19 is harmless in children but it’s not,” said Eddie Frothingham, MD, from Mid-Valley Children’s Clinic in Albany. “It’s much worse in adults but that doesn’t make it harmless in kids.”
Pediatric cases have grown dramatically since the Delta variant became dominant this summer, accounting for 21 percent of cases according to the most recent Oregon Health Authority data. Additionally, Dr. Frothingham reported long COVID-19 symptoms and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, which can both occur after natural infection, can have serious consequences for kids.
Vaccination offers significant protection from severe illness and death from COVID-19, and from the potential side effects of natural infection.
“There are the health aspects of protection that a vaccine offers, but there are also values associated with getting the vaccine,” said Dr. Frothingham. “The older kids and teens in my practice who have been eligible for a while are often making the decision to be vaccinated based on feeling strongly that it’s the right thing to do in order to protect others in the community.”
Vaccination can also alleviate some of the inconvenience of having kids attending school; if your child is vaccinated, they no longer need to quarantine at home for 10 days if they have a COVID-19 exposure.
Does the Vaccine Cause Long-term Side Effects?
Potential side effects of the vaccine have been a concern since the beginning as parents are understandably anxious about how the vaccine may affect their child down the road. The mRNA technology used in the vaccine teaches the immune cells what to do and then quickly breaks apart and exits the body, usually within 10 to 20 days. The vaccine itself does not stay in the system beyond that timeframe, only the newly developed immunity.
In addition, Dr. Frothingham reported the vaccine doesn’t interact with DNA, the brain or reproductive organs.
“During initial clinical trials of the vaccine women were asked not to become pregnant, but the same number of women became pregnant in the placebo and vaccine groups,” said Dr. Frothingham. “We have no reason to suspect that the vaccine would affect reproduction because it doesn’t engage with the body in that way, and there has been no evidence to show that fertility is affected in men or women.”
A study of women undergoing in vitro fertilization published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in the journal F & S Reports compared women who had previously had COVID-19, those who had previously received the vaccine and those unexposed to the virus or the vaccine. The study found no difference in pregnancy success rates across the three groups.
According to the CDC, studies show no changes in sperm characteristics in men after vaccination.
What About the Risk of Myocarditis?
Side effects that have been documented after vaccination include myocarditis and pericarditis. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart and pericarditis is inflammation of the lining around the outside of the heart. If these side effects are going to occur, the CDC reported it will usually happen within several days of receiving the vaccine.
“These side effects are extremely rare and happen in about 1 in 50,000 to 100,000 people after receiving the vaccine,” said Dr. Frothingham. “Finding a complication this infrequent is reassuring because it shows that the medical community is looking closely for side effects and complications. The vaccine surveillance is working.”
Dr. Frothingham reported that people who experience myocarditis or pericarditis typically have a full recovery.
“For now, the risk of COVID-19 infection and the associated side effects drastically outweigh the risk of myocarditis or pericarditis,” he said. “After treating young people in the clinic and hospital from COVID-19 infection, vaccination is the safest choice in my experience.”
Where to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine
Samaritan’s pediatric and family medicine clinics have already been administering the COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 12 and older. These clinics will also have the vaccine available for children 5 to 11 in the coming weeks. Visit samhealth.org/GetTheVaccine for the latest information on availability of the vaccine for all ages. Your child will be scheduled for the second dose when they receive their first dose of the vaccine.
See Dr. Frothingham answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for children.
Find a COVID-19 vaccine for you or your child.