Coronavirus Chronicles

Your 5- to 11-Year-Old Is Finally Eligible for a Covid Vaccine

It's only Pfizer for now get what you get and you don't throw a fit.

By Angela Cabotaje November 2, 2021

seattle-area Parents, the time has come. On October 29, the FDA voted 17-0 (with one abstaining) to grant emergency use authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for kids ages five to 11. Then November 2 the CDC's advisory committee gave the final metaphorical thumbs-up, paving the way for some 680,000 Washington children to receive their shots. 

While many parents plan on hauling their newly eligible progeny to the pediatrician's office stat, others are keen to take a wait-and-see approach. According to an October poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only around 27 percent of U.S. parents with kids in this age group plan to get the shot soon after it's available. Another third plan to hold off to see how the vaccine is working, while the remaining third don't have any desire to vaccinate their kids against Covid at all (meep).

Dr. Elizabeth Meade, medical director of pediatric quality and safety at Swedish Medical Group, agrees with the polls, noting via email: "I anticipate that uptake will likely follow a similar trajectory to the 12–18 age group. There will be a sizable portion of parents who are waiting for the very first opportunity to get their kids protected, who will want to vaccinate as soon as available. Then there will be a group of parents who wants a little more data and time before vaccinating."

Whatever faction you fall into, we know you have questions. Here are answers to some of your most Googled queries.

Is the Covid vaccine safe for kids ages five to 11?

In a word, yes. "All of the data that we have so far, from thousands of kids in the trials, says that this vaccine is very safe and incredibly effective in the five–11 year age group," Meade explains. She adds that she'll be vaccinating her seven-year-old as soon as the shot is officially available.

According to data that Pfizer submitted to the FDA, only five out of 2,268 participants experienced serious health effects during the trial—but none were caused by the vaccine. Instead those adverse events were bone fractures, an arthritic infection, and one kid who swallowed a penny. 

So is anything different about the shot for this age group?

A couple of things. The dosage, for one: children in this age group will get about a third of an adult dose (10 micrograms compared to 30 micrograms). And the needle size: smaller arms, smaller needles. Makes "cents"—like that penny kid.

OK, but how effective is it?

Pretty darn effective. Or in more scientific terms, 90.7 percent effective in preventing a Covid infection. That's a solid A minus.

Do children still need to get two doses?

Yep, it's the same rules for this age group as others: two doses, three weeks apart.

Are the vaccine side effects any different?

They're pretty much the same as they are for adults and teens: soreness at the injection site, headache, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, chills. Side effects seemed to be more common after the second shot, but most were mild to moderate and went away within two days. "There were no other age-specific side effects that were seen in the pediatric vaccine trials so far," Meade adds.

In other words, if you've got lollipops and a fully charged iPad, your child will probably weather the side effects just fine.

But I've heard that the vaccine causes heart problems in kids.  

You're probably thinking of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. While there have definitely been reports of this happening after a Covid shot, Meade says this mostly affects adolescents and young adults, particularly males between the ages of 16 and 29, not this age group. And even then, it's very uncommon. Keep in mind, too, that Covid-19 is statistically more likely to leave permanent heart damage than the vaccine.

But wait. I've also heard the vaccine can mess with my child's fertility.

A whopping two-thirds of parents from that Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported being worried that the vaccine would have adverse effects on their child's ability to reproduce in the future. We know you want grandkids, but this myth has been scientifically disproven again and again and again. At this point, health care professionals know it's an uphill battle to convince misinformation naysayers (although they sure have been trying). 

But but kids are at low-risk from Covid-19. Do they actually need to get vaccinated?

The FDA reports that as of mid-October in the United States, around 8,300 people in the 5–11 age group needed to be hospitalized due to Covid and 146 of those children died. If you're looking at it purely from a numbers perspective then, sure, the risk of Covid is low for your school-age kid. But if you're the parent of one of those 146 children who died, it probably doesn't feel that way.

Remember that vaccination is also about keeping schools open—and saving yourself from the pandemic parenting circle of hell that is getting your kid tested, quarantining, and scrambling to find childcare every time there's an outbreak. In August and September of this year, the Washington State Department of Health reported 189 outbreaks in K–12 schools. Most of them (120) were in elementary schools. 

Will Washington state mandate Covid vaccines for kids in school?

Although kids need to get certain vaccines (for polio, measles, mumps, and the like) in order to attend school in Washington, Meade doesn't anticipate any mandate like that for Covid in the near future, "at least until there is full FDA approval and we have some longer-term data on vaccine effectiveness."

Well, will there be enough vaccines to go around right away?

The good news is that vaccines are already coming (or here!). Around 230,000 kid-size doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Washington the first week of November. And we're expecting an extra 86,000 doses from the the federal pharmacy program too. The bad news: Those shots may not be enough to meet the initial demand here in very vaccinated King County. Public health officials expect any backlog to clear up in the coming weeks as more doses become available.

So where can my kids get the shot?

It's likely going to be a combined effort of community vaccination sites, pediatrician's offices, pharmacies, and maybe even schools, Meade says. Some hospitals, like UW Medicine, have even started a waitlist in anticipation of the approval. For now, your best bet is to check in with your child's doctor or to look up one of the many vaccination sites in King County offering vaccines and boosters.

OK, I have to ask. Any word on when kids younger than five will be eligible?

Here's Meade again: "We expect that there will be data coming for the two- to five-year age group and likely six months to two years as well, at least from Pfizer, by the end of 2021 or early 2022. That would allow the approval process to move forward, hopefully by spring of next year."

Until then, stay strong, fellow parents. And pass the wine.

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