The CDC on Tuesday gave the green light for this age group to get a Pfizer shot, which marks the first COVID-19 vaccine available for children under 12 years old. All Americans ages 5 and up are now vaccine-eligible.
Children will receive two Pfizer shots at one-third of an adult dose, 3 weeks apart. One important thing to note: Because you’re not considered fully vaccinated until 2 weeks after your second shot, children who get their vaccines now will still not have full protection by Thanksgiving.
Pfizer studies show its vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19. None of the children ages 5 to 11 who were studied have had any serious side effects, according to Pfizer data posted by the FDA.
The U.S. has enough vaccine supply for all 28 million children now eligible, according to the White House.
All COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge.
“Parents should feel comforted not just that their children will be protected, but that this vaccine has gone through the necessary and rigorous evaluation that ensures the vaccine is safe and highly effective,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, said at a recent news conference.
How Soon Can My Child Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Many pediatricians have already pre-ordered the vaccine and will likely have it ready to go, says Sara “Sally” Goza, MD, a pediatrician in Fayetteville, GA, and immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
But it will still probably vary by site, according to Andrew Pavia, MD, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.
“Larger clinics and children’s hospitals will be in the first group to be ready to provide the vaccine,” he says.
Various other COVID-19 vaccination sites stand ready to distribute the new children’s vaccine as well.
Viral Solutions, a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination and testing site with locations across Georgia, says it could give children ages 5 to 11 COVID-19 shots as early as Thursday.
Will My Child’s Pediatrician Have the Vaccine?
It’s a good idea to call your child’s doctor to see if they have COVID-19 vaccines for younger children, Goza says.
“I think that is really where pediatricians will come in — talking about the vaccine, getting parents more comfortable about the vaccine, and then being able to give the vaccine,” she says.
But not all pediatricians will have vaccines right away, as the Pfizer shot requires special refrigeration, not to mention that pediatrics offices are typically busy this time of year anyway.
The pharmacy is another great option, says Eric Ascher, DO, a family medicine doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“Pharmacists are well-trained in vaccine administration,” he says.
“They are also well-trained if in the very rare event something happens. In fact, in the hospital, when a patient has a medication or vaccine side effect, the pharmacy team is the first group bedside, alongside the physician, to help treat the patient.”
If parents are hesitant to take their 5- to 11-year-old to a pharmacy to get a COVID-19 vaccine, they should raise any questions or concerns with their pharmacist, says Danielle M. Zerr, MD, division chief of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Washington..
“What’s key is the vaccinator’s experience in administering vaccines to children,” she says. “This is a question that parents can ask of the pharmacy.”
Will the Doctor’s Office Be Crowded With Kids Getting COVID-19 Shots?
It could be challenging for some pediatricians’ offices to keep up with the demand for COVID-19 shots, especially with children and families coming in for other services, according to Pavia.
“They are also giving catch-up doses of other vaccines for children who missed appointments during earlier phases of the pandemic, and may be dealing with staff shortages,” he says.
“If your pediatrician will not be giving the vaccine for a few weeks, you may want to go to a pharmacy.”
Parents can also ask their doctor for recommendations on where to take their 5- to 11-year-old to get the COVID-19 vaccine, Goza says.
“If pediatricians are not going to be able to offer it in their office, they’ll know where parents can get it,” she says.
It’s also possible that some practices could offer special vaccine clinics to help meet the demand for the new children’s COVID-19 vaccines, Zerr says.
But if your pediatrician’s office does have COVID-19 vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11, it’s a smart idea to get them in to see the doctor, says Ascher.
“I think this will be a very welcomed request and will allow a wonderful opportunity for primary care providers and pediatricians to catch children up on other age-appropriate needs,” he says.
How Will I Know if My Child Is Having Serious Side Effects?
“If the child complains of chest pain or shortness of breath, or your child does not appear the way they normally would, call your pediatrician,” Ascher says.
COVID-19 vaccine side effects for kids ages 5 to 11 will likely be similar, if not milder, than those seen in adults, according to Pavia.
“Sore arms are very common,” he says. “Some children may experience fatigue, chills, muscle aches, or fever. These side effects were somewhat less common in children 5 to 11 years old than in teens and young adults.”
“Most often, these side effects last less than 24 hours, but may last a bit longer,” he says.
Overall, parents should trust their instincts, says Zerr.
“If you are worried, call your child’s primary care provider,” she says. “Also, the CDC has some helpful information here.”
The CDC also has a free smartphone tool, called V-SAFE, that offers you personalized health check-ins after getting vaccinated and lets you tell the CDC of any symptoms you’re having.
Based on your answers, the CDC could give you a call with information on next steps you could take to address your concerns.
Children Ages 5 to 11 Differ Greatly in Size; Why Is This Age Group So Vast?
Vaccine doses are based on age and the body’s maturity to develop a strong immune response vs. body size, Ascher says.
“The vaccine trials addressed vaccine doses across many ages to determine which is the safest dose with the largest immune response, with the least amount of side effects,” he says.
If you’d like more information on COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, you can contact your doctor or other health care providers. You can also check out the CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services websites for updates.