Valerie Borum Smith, MD, MPH, FAAP, is a pediatrician at St. Paul Children's Services in Tyler, Texas, and is a member of the Texas Medical Association COVID-19 taskforce.
Good news for parents—children who are 12 years and older can now get the COVID-19 vaccine, and it couldn’t come at a better time. While children are less likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19, they are still at risk. Families deserve the chance to get back to an active life without the constant worries. The vaccine is the best shot at a normal life, protected from Covid.
Which COVID-19 vaccines can children get?
While adults have several options, Pfizer-BioNTech is currently the only option available for children. To be effective, this vaccine is given in two doses that are given three weeks (21 days) apart. Maximum protection is achieved two weeks after receiving the second shot.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children?
Yes. The vaccine was developed using science that has been around for decades, and it received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The Pfizer vaccine was tested and monitored for safety and effectiveness in children 12 and older, just as it was tested for adults. More than seven million children under 17 have received the vaccine in the United States.
Can children get the virus from the vaccine?
No. The vaccine does not contain the live virus, so your child cannot get Covid from the vaccine.
Why are pediatricians recommending children get the vaccine?
Our role as pediatricians is to keep patients safe and healthy, and to allow them to get back to those activities they deserve to be doing. When parents ask me if they should get their children vaccinated for COVID-19, I recommend they do. I would never recommend something I wouldn’t recommend for my own child, a family member, or a loved one.
Another reason for getting the vaccine is that children can spread the virus to others. There could be family members, friends, teachers, classmates, or others who have a health condition that puts them at greater risk of getting Covid and facing serious consequences. The vaccine helps prevent the spread of Covid to everyone around them.
More than four million children in the United States have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and more than 300 have died.
When and how was the vaccine tested?
The Pfizer study with children began in March 2021. The study enrolled 2,260 participants ages 12 to 15. Of those children, 1,131 received the vaccine (two shots, given three weeks apart) and 1,129 received saline placebo shots. The study found the vaccine worked even better for children than it did for adults. No children in the vaccine group got sick with COVID-19, while 18 children in the placebo group became ill.
Moderna recently released the results of its test of the vaccine in 3,732 people ages 12 to 17. Two-thirds received two vaccine doses, and there were no cases of symptomatic COVID-19 in fully vaccinated adolescents. More than 160 million people have been fully vaccinated, including more than seven million 12 to 17 year-old adolescents. The CDC continues to monitor for side effects.
Did they rush the testing to get the vaccine approved quickly?
No. Researchers have been studying and working with mRNA vaccines for decades. This includes studies for the vaccines for the flu, Zika, and rabies. All of that work made it possible for scientists to create the COVID-19 vaccine. Once necessary information about the Covid virus was available, scientists began designing the specific mRNA instructions that would be effective against the that virus.
Does the vaccine change your DNA (genetic material)?
No. The Covid mRNA vaccine does not affect or interact with DNA (genetic material) in any way. It never enters the nucleus of the cell, which is where our DNA is kept.
What information is available about the long-term effects of the vaccine?
The long-term effects are not known for children or adults at this time. The long-term effects of getting Covid are not known either. However, research has shown that some children who have recovered from a mild case of Covid may have long-term inflammation in the heart and lungs.
What are the short-term side effects in children who have gotten the vaccine?
Some children have experienced pain at the injection site, fever, chills, tiredness, headache, and joint and muscle pain. These typically lasted one to three days. In general, the risks from getting COVID-19 seem to be much greater than the risks of getting the vaccine.
Should my child get the vaccine if they have allergies?
If your child has a history of severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the vaccine (such as polyethylene glycol), they should not get the vaccine. It is important to talk to your pediatrician about the vaccine, especially if your child has a history of allergies.
Where can I get my child vaccinated?
Vaccines are being given at pediatrician offices and at pharmacies. Be sure to check in advance if you need an appointment or if walk-in options are available. You can also visit covidvaccine.texas.gov or call 1-833-832-7067 to find a vaccine near you.
How much does it cost, and do I need insurance?
The vaccine is free for everyone. You and your child do not need insurance to get a vaccine.
When will younger children be able to get the vaccine?
Children 5 to 11 are expected to receive approval to get the vaccine in the winter. Children even younger will likely be able to get the vaccine in early 2022. As we see more contagious variants of COVID-19, such as the Delta variant, we will likely see more unvaccinated people become ill, including young children. While thankfully most young children recover well from COVID-19, there are some that develop life-threatening complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). They can also spread COVID-19 to more vulnerable family and community members.
Can my child get the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines at the same time?
Yes, the Covid vaccine can be given with other childhood immunizations. If your child is behind on HPV, meningococcal, and other recommended vaccines, now is a good time to catch up and get all the necessary vaccines with the Covid shot.
How should I make the best decision for my family on the getting the vaccine?
As with any medical concern, talk to your child’s pediatrician or health care provider. They will have the best information regarding your child’s medical history and can make a recommendation based on information specific to your child and family situation.