Coronavirus Chronicles

What to Expect When You're Expecting...a Covid Vaccine for Your Child

Your 12-year-old can get vaccinated now. Here's what you should know about kids and shots.

By Benjamin Cassidy May 13, 2021

It's CDC official: Kids as young as 12 can now get in line for the Pfizer vaccine.

While it’s offered no small dose of relief to see Washington's Covid-19 vaccination numbers climbing, something has continued to nag us: No one under the age of 16 has counted toward those totals.

Up until now, most kids have been on the sidelines of our shot chasing efforts. The clinical trials that led to the record-speed distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech and NIH-Moderna two-dose vaccines didn't involve anyone sub-16 (in Moderna's case, 18). Johnson and Johnson's single-shot program was also only authorized for those 18 and up. Scientists had a hunch that the vaccines would be safe and similarly effective at curbing symptomatic Covid in children, but they couldn't say for sure. Not without conducting more studies.

Well one of those trials wrapped up in March. And the results were kind of stunning—in a good way. In a study of 2,260 adolescents ranging from 12 to 15 years old, Pfizer's vaccine was found to be safe and 100 percent effective in preventing Covid-19. Basically, zero kids who received their two doses got sick. The findings were somehow even better than the 95 percent efficacy number for adults that was widely celebrated. On Wednesday, the CDC officially recommended that providers start administering doses to that age group.

But naturally, as with every stage of the vaccine rollout, some confusion accompanied that expansion here in Washington. Here are some answers to questions parents might be having right about now.

Didn't I already hear this news? I tried to get my kid a shot and got denied.

Vaccine authorization is a multi-step process that leads to lots of headlines proclaiming something is about to happen. This is not the same thing as something actually happening.

Pfizer released the very promising results of its study on March 31, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn't grant its emergency use authorization until Monday. That announcement garnered considerable media coverage and perhaps sent some parents scurrying to sites to get their middle schoolers shots. But the aforementioned CDC backing on Wednesday, coupled with the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workroup's approval on Wednesday evening, was the real go-ahead that local vaccine providers had been waiting for.

On social media, some users reported that their kids were rejected for shots even after the CDC news. Others reported that the Lumen Field Event Center city site in Seattle was saying come-on-down to adolescents before the western states' OK. Clearly there was a little confusion about how to proceed yesterday. But by the time you're reading this, there is none: Anyone between 12 and 15 years old is now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine doses (with consent from a parent or guardian, unless they're emancipated), and there are plenty of doses to go around here in Washington.

So the Pfizer shot is effective, but are the side effects any worse in adolescents?

Nope. Side effects were "generally consistent" with those who are between 16 and 25, Pfizer reported. A sore arm, fatigue, chills, muscle pain, and fever are all possibilities post-jab. They typically last one to three days, and are more often felt after the second dose (sound familiar, parents?). The vaccine would not be granted emergency use authorization if it was not safe.

You know, there are kids younger than 12. When is it their turn?

It's going to be a little while. Pfizer plans to seek emergency use authorization for its vaccine in children ages 2 through 11 in September, and 6 months-and-up by the end of 2021.

We're a Moderna family. Any news on when children will be eligible for those shots?

The company announced May 25 that its vaccine is effective in kids as young as 12, and it will soon seek FDA authorization. Eligibility for the 11-and-under demographic will be at least another few months. Johnson and Johnson has only recently begun studying its vaccine in people under 18.

Will my kids need a vaccine for Covid vaccine to go to school?

The Seattle Times reported this week that the Washington State Board of Health won't add a Covid-19 vaccine to the list of required immunizations for school entry until it's approved by the FDA. Though the FDA has granted the Pfizer vaccine emergency use authorization for 12 to 15-year-olds, the two-dose program's formal approval is still to come. Yes, that means there's yet another step we're waiting on. So, a Covid-19 vaccine isn't a requirement yet, but it seems very likely it will be eventually, with the usual immunization exemptions available. Seattle Public Schools is already standing up clinics at its buildings for those 12 and up to get vaxxed.

Is my unvaccinated kid at risk of getting Covid-19?

The Washington State Department of Health can address this one: "Although fewer children have been sick with Covid-19 compared to adults, children can be infected with the virus, get sick, and spread the virus to others. Most children with Covid-19 have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all. However, some children can get severely ill and may require hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breath. In rare cases, children can die."

I'm vaccinated. Can I spread the virus to my kid?

It's still a little unclear if vaccinated people can spread the virus to others, even if they're not getting sick. Early evidence suggests that doses reduce transmission levels, but we're still in the better-safe-than-sorry stage. Use the CDC's guidelines for activities and masking accordingly.

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