Kids ages 5 to 11 could get Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine within months. What to know

Getting your younger kids vaccinated against COVID-19 could become reality sooner than you think. Pfizer said on Monday its vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11. But it could take weeks or months before the vaccine receives emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

© Provided by CNET So far, most adverse responses to the coronavirus vaccine have been allergic reactions that were treated immediately by medical professionals. Westend61/Getty Images

After kids returned to the classroom last month, the US saw its biggest wave of COVID-19 cases in children compared to any point in the pandemic, according to data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. Per a Sept. 2 report, there were over 750,000 new child cases between Aug. 5 and Sept. 2. It’s since dropped to roughly 243,000 new cases as of the latest Sept. 9 report.

In August, Pfizer got full approval from the FDA for its mRNA vaccine in people aged 16 and older (the vaccine still has an emergency use authorization in place for kids as young as age 12). Some think that having a coronavirus vaccine with full FDA approval will pave the way for local governments, businesses and schools to mandate vaccines for employees, but that still leaves young children out.

Experts don’t know right now if it’s the more contagious delta variant making more children sick or the relaxation or total stop of public health measures — such as mask mandates and social distancing — that leave those without immunity at higher risk. Fortunately, children remain at a much lower risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19 compared to adults overall. (Of states that reported to the AAP, about 0.1% to 1.9% of child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.)

© Sarah Tew/CNET

So far, most adverse responses to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine have been allergic reactions that were treated immediately by medical professionals.

Dr. Anne Liu, an infectious disease specialist with Stanford Hospital and Clinics and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, says that the lack of perfect information on pediatric cases is because not everyone is getting tested and tracked. 

“It is surprising a lot of families to see just how sick kids can get with COVID,” Liu said.

Whether you have kids at home who are old enough to get a COVID-19 vaccine, or you want to be prepared for when your little ones are eligible, we made a guide of what experts know now about children and coronavirus vaccines. 

Read more: Pfizer COVID-19 third shot: FDA panel rejects boosters for general public

When can my child get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Kids age 12 and older have been eligible for the Pfizer vaccine since May. The FDA gave Pfizer emergency use authorization for kids aged 12 to 15 after a clinical trial found the vaccine is safe and effective in that group. Pfizer says its vaccine is now safe and effective for children between ages 5 and 11 but it will need to get FDA emergency authorization, which could take months.

The other mRNA vaccine, Moderna, and the only single-dose vaccine on the US market, Johnson & Johnson, aren’t available to kids yet.

Clinical trials for Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in younger children are underway. At an Axios event in May, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that children at least as young as 4 might be eligible for a COVID-19 at the “end of the calendar year” or in early 2022. 

Does Pfizer’s full FDA approval extend to kids?

The FDA’s approval of Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, only applies to kids aged 16 to 18. While Pfizer remains the only vaccine maker authorized for use in kids as young as 12 years old, vaccinating that age group is still under emergency use authorization rather than total approval. This is because, along with other factors, full FDA approval requires data on how the vaccine fares six months out, per NPR. Pfizer’s vaccine was only authorized for kids aged 12 to 15 in May.

My child has allergies, can they get the vaccine?

“If the child has a history of anaphylaxis or other severe allergies, then the observation time after the injection may be 30 minutes instead of 15,” Liu says. So, you might be asked to stick around the waiting room with your child for an extra 15 minutes where health care providers can monitor vaccine recipients for the (extremely rare) allergic reaction that can occur after any vaccination. Additionally, Liu says, children who are prescribed an EpiPen for any reason should bring it to their vaccine appointment. 

If your child has a severe allergy to any of the ingredients in the vaccine available to them, they shouldn’t take it, according to the World Health Organization. Adults allergic to any ingredient a COVID-19 also shouldn’t take that vaccine. Find the ingredients for Pfizer on the FDA fact sheet, as well as Moderna’s components.

Can my child get the COVID-19 shot at the same time as other vaccines?

Yes, according to the CDC, your child may get other vaccines when they go in for their coronavirus shot without waiting 14 days between appointments.

© Provided by CNET Moderna is testing its vaccine on children aged 12 through 17. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Should we be worried about myocarditis? 

Myocarditis and pericarditis, or inflammation in the heart, is a very rare side effect linked to Moderna and Pfizer vaccines mostly in males under 30 and following the second dose. After looking at data and weighing the risks and benefits, the CDC still recommends everyone, including children as young as 12, get vaccinated. According to a Washington Post report, the CDC and FDA are looking into Canadian data that suggests Moderna might carry a higher risk of myocarditis than Pfizer, mainly in young people. 

When cases of myocarditis have occurred, Liu says, the cases have typically responded to treatment and resolved themselves, even when patients were hospitalized for a day or two. 

“COVID-19 infection can have much more serious consequences for the heart than the vaccine,” Liu says.

The CDC recommends speaking to a doctor about when to return to sports or exercise after getting vaccinated. The government in Singapore, where 70% of the population is fully vaccinated, recommends people, especially adolescents, refrain from strenuous exercise for a week after their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

If I’m pregnant or breastfeeding, can I get vaccinated?

Yes, according to the CDC, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. The CDC joined the ACOG and the SMFM in its statement that the available data shows that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant people, breastfeeding people and those who want to be pregnant in the future.

The CDC referred to preliminary data that showed there was no increased risk of miscarriage among those who got an mRNA vaccine before the 20th week of pregnancy, compared to those who didn’t get vaccinated before 20 weeks. 

My child can’t be vaccinated yet. What should we do? 

When spending time with other families with children, it’s best if everyone continues to wear a mask, according to Harvard Health, and they should isolate themselves if there’s an exposure. Additionally, choosing more outdoor activities and avoiding crowds, even when outdoors, can help protect your kids. Parents and older siblings who are vaccinated should also mask up to prevent breakthrough infections that can spread to vulnerable people who aren’t as protected, including kids. 

The CDC has prioritized in-person learning for students this fall, and it has guidance on prevention strategies schools should use to keep students and staff safe. As you prepare to send your kids back to school, here’s a list of some COVID-friendly school supplies they might need.

Different areas of the country have had varied coronavirus public health responses for schools. California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced recently teachers must be vaccinated against COVID-19, or test regularly, adding to the growing number of governments and agencies requiring vaccination. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said that district superintendents’ and school board members’ salaries could be withheld if they go against the executive order that bans mask mandates in schools.

CNET Associate Writer Katie Teague contributed to this article.

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