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How Parents Should Approach the Recent Federal Approval of COVID-19 Vaccine for Children 5-11

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On November 2, 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that all children ages 5 and older receive a COVID-19 vaccination. More than 11 million older children in the U.S. have already been vaccinated against COVID-19, and this new recommendation further widens the blanket of protection against this formidable public health threat. 

However, despite the CDC’s recent recommendation, if you have young children—or if you’re involved in supporting young children—you may harbor legitimate questions and concerns when deciding whether or not to vaccinate them. It can be daunting to sift through the available information to make the best possible health decision for your family. However, experts note that vaccinating young children is the best decision for children and the communities they live within. 

Here’s what you need to know about the importance of COVID-19 vaccines for the 28 million children in the U.S. who are between the ages of 5 and 11. 

Timeline of the Recent Vaccine Approval 

The CDC’s recommendation of COVID-19 vaccines in the 5 to 11 age group follows the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer vaccine in young children, which was granted on October 29, 2021. The CDC evaluated the research and data from clinical trials involving children and made this decision based on the evidence they saw of vaccine safety and vaccine efficacy in this age group. The same day that the CDC announced its recommendation, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) ushered forward its support and updated its own vaccine recommendations for young children. 

How the Vaccine for Children Ages 5 to 11 Differs from the Vaccine for Adolescents and Adults 

Similar to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine series that has been approved for adolescents and adults, the recently-approved series for children ages 5 to 11 consists of two doses, spaced three weeks apart. However, the dose of the vaccine is lower for this age group, at one-third the quantity that has been administered to adolescents and adults (10 micrograms versus 30 micrograms). In clinical trials, this was the dose with the greatest efficacy and lowest risk of side effects. 

Allaying Fears About the COVID-19 Vaccine in Kids 

When you’re making a health decision for your children, it’s best to be fully informed about the benefits, along with risks. When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines in kids ages 5 to 11, the good news is that they are very low risk. According to the FDA, the safety of the Pfizer vaccine was studied in 3,100 children in the 5 to 11 age group, with no serious side effects observed. The most common side effect was a sore arm, according to the CDC. The vaccine was also found to be highly effective in this age group, preventing COVID-19 in 90.7 percent of those who received it. Though there has been considerable attention given to the vaccine side effect of heart inflammation (myocarditis) in male adolescents ages 12 to 17, this side effect is very rare in the 12 to 17 group, occurring in 0.005 percent of cases. In the clinical trials for the 5 to 11 age group, there were no cases of myocarditis—however, experts note that very rare side effects are often not seen without a larger sample size. 

Why Vaccination Is Important for the 5–11 Age Group 

For many parents, the vaccine question transcends mere facts about the vaccine and, instead, encompasses a larger question of why is it necessary? Young people, particularly those in the 5 to 11 age group, are at very low risk for severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19. In addition, 8,300 of the two million cases in this age group required hospitalization, and only 146 of those cases (0.0073 percent) resulted in death. 

With such low rates of severe illness and death, it can be difficult to conceptualize why a vaccine that protects children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19 is so important. However, even with low death rates, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that COVID-19 is still in the top ten causes of death for this age group. Additionally, getting vaccinated can help children avoid long-term effects from the virus, such as MIS-C inflammatory syndrome. 

Furthermore, from a broader perspective, the 5 to 11 age group accounts for a considerable swath of the population in terms of COVID-19 infections, accounting for 39 percent of the cases in children under age 18, according to the FDA. As more and more children get vaccinated, communities can get a better handle on overall cases and will edge closer to the end of the pandemic, experts note. And, as the pandemic nears its end, other pandemic-related issues will hopefully begin to subside as well, including the national emergency in children’s mental health that was recently declared by several medical organizations. 

Practical Implementation in the 5–11 Age Group 

Outside the concerns of parents, with the introduction of the vaccine to the ages 5 to 11 group, there will inevitably be challenges within communities in terms of practical implementation. If you work for a school or a healthcare facility, you will now need to shift into a mode of public education and persuasion—which may be difficult. However, the Public Health Communications Collaborative has resources available for targeting these messages to effectively launch new vaccine campaigns in these settings. 

As we move forward with implementing these recommendations, and as vaccines from other manufacturers are added to the equation, we may encounter increased attempts at spreading misinformation. Whether you’re a parent making decisions on behalf of your child, a local school official trying to implement new guidelines to a skeptical community, or a health care provider charged with educating your patients, it will be imperative that you can lean upon information from vetted sources that you trust. Make sure to check out these resources from the Public Health Communication Collaborative (Trust for America’s Health) as well as the CDC for additional support. 

Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members. 

References: 

  1. Updated Toolkit: Children and COVID-19 Vaccination https://publichealthcollaborative.org/resources/graphics-children-and-covid-19-vaccination/ 
  1. FDA Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Children 5 through 11 Years of Age. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-authorizes-pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine-emergency-use-children-5-through-11-years-age 
  1. Gottlieb: ‘We’re close to the end of the pandemic phase’. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/gottlieb-we-re-close-to-the-end-of-the-pandemic-phase.html?origin=BHRE&utm_source=BHRE&utm_medium=email&utm_content=newsletter&oly_enc_id=7009B3432878F6L 
  1. COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/children-teens.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fvaccines%2Frecommendations%2Fadolescents.html 
  1. Wondering about COVID-19 vaccines for kids 5 to 11? https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/11/pediatrician-weighs-in-on-covid-vaccines-for-kids-5-11/ 
  1. Moderna says its low-dose Covid vaccine works for kids 6 to 11. https://www.statnews.com/2021/10/25/moderna-low-dose-covid-vaccine-works-kids/#:~:text=Moderna%20said%20Monday%20that,toward%20expanding%20shots%20to%20children. 
  1. FDA panel: Benefits of COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11 outweigh risks. https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/17751?autologincheck=redirected 
  1. AAP, AACAP, CHA declare national emergency in children’s mental health. https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/17718 
  1. CDC Recommends Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccines for Children 5 to 11 Years. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s1102-PediatricCOVID-19Vaccine.html 
  1. COVID-19 Resources for School Administrators, Staff, and Educators. https://publichealthcollaborative.org/resources/covid-19-resources-for-school-administrators-staff-and-educators/ 

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