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The COVID-19 vaccine is now available for children ages 5 to 11.
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics experts participated in a media briefing this past month to answer questions and address families’ concerns about the vaccine for young children.
► ASK THE GAZETTE: Share your questions about the COVID vaccine for kids
What does the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 look like?
Federal health officials have given emergency use authorization for the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for kids aged 5 to 11.
Under the same process that was used to approve coronavirus vaccines for older populations, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have given the go-ahead for this vaccine for children within this age group.
The proposed dose for children is one-third the amount given to adults and teens.
Data from Pfizer states that amount still creates a robust immune response and is 91 percent effective in preventing children from developing COVID-19.
Are shots widely available for children?
Pediatrician’s offices, pharmacies and other vaccine providers began administering shots to young Iowans across the state the first week in November. The first vaccines were administered to young residents in the Corridor on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
Local health care officials say they expect vaccination appointments for this age group would be more widely available by the week of Nov. 8 as providers review state guidance and take steps to prepare for this new distribution effort.
Where can my child get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The state public health department says children will be able to receive the vaccine at pediatric clinics, family medicine clinics, rural health centers and federally qualified health centers.
Local public health agencies are in the process of determining which vaccine providers have the capacity and ability to administer shots to young children.
The White House has also made a push administer vaccines to children in elementary schools across the country, according to a plan released by the Biden Administration last week. However, no details have been announced.
If kids are less likely to develop severe COVID-19, why should they be vaccinated?
It is true children are less likely than adults to develop serious illness from a COVID-19 infection.
However, they are still capable of catching and transmitting the virus to others, including vulnerable populations.
The sooner the population reaches herd immunity against the novel coronavirus, the sooner communities can overcome the pandemic, said Dr. Rami Boutros, director of pediatrics at UIHC.
“What we see and have seen is a spread from kids who pick it up in sports and at school, and then it goes back into their homes. Then family members become ill because of that,” said Dr. Mike Brownlee, UIHC chief pharmacy officer. ”We're trying to minimize the spread of the virus by having as many vaccinated as possible to slow that down.“
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children?
Research has not revealed any serious risks for children between the ages of 5 and 11. Once the CDC and FDA sign off, families can feel confident the vaccine is safe and effective, UIHC officials say.
Pfizer proposed a one-third dose amount in an effort to minimize side effects and potential long-term effects for children, Brownlee said. So far, data has shown the vaccine is effective is creating a strong immune response with less side effects.
Data from Pfizer shows only minor side effects were reported among children in clinical trials, similar to those experienced by adults and teens. Side effects — such as fatigue, headache or fever — were most common after the second shot.
No cases of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, was reported in the trial. The rare side effect has been associated with the vaccine among younger males, but that condition resolved within a few days for most patients, the Washington Post reported.
“That's why we believe the risk from the vaccine is very small in comparison to what we have seen with the disease,” Boutros said.
Federal health officials are studying any potential adverse events very closely. Boutros and pediatricians also report any side effects they see to federal officials in order to ensure the shots are the safe for children.
“For families, I want to emphasize we take vaccine safety very seriously and we want children to be protected,” Boutros said.
Should I be concerned about the potential for unknown, long-term side effects?
Since the COVID-19 vaccines were first administered to adults in December 2020, experts have not seen any evidence of negative long-term consequences from the vaccines.
“All in all, what we see is that the vaccine is effective,” Boutros said. “With patients who have received it so far, we have not seen any long-term effects.”
UIHC providers emphasized the risk from the vaccine is very small compared to the risk of long-term consequences from COVID-19. Even though a small number of young children develop serious side effects from an infection, the impact of the disease “can be devastating,” Boutros said.
“There are more complications from the disease, even for younger children, and there still is death reported with COVID,” Boutros said. “We’ve seen with the vaccine that it prevents severe illness in children.”
Providers and other health experts will continue to monitor for any potential side effects from the vaccines for the foreseeable future.
My child is 11 years old. Should I wait until his or her birthday to get them vaccinated with the adult dose?
Parents should not wait to vaccinate their children, Boutros said.
Data has shown children will develop a robust immune response against the coronavirus whether they get an adult dose or a pediatric dose of the vaccine, Brownlee said.
Is it safe for my child to get both the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu shot?
It is safe, Boutros said.
He encouraged families to vaccinate children 6 months and older against the flu.
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