Q&A: What parents should know about the COVID-19 vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration recently expanded emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include children 12 years of age and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that everyone 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against the disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports this decision. With this expansion of eligibility, we know many parents have questions as they determine whether or not to vaccinate their kids and teens.

John Pope, MD, MPH, vice president, chief medical officer and pediatric service line director at HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center, helps answer some common questions about the vaccine in kids and teens, so you can make an informed decision.

Q. If kids and teens aren’t at risk for severe infection, why should I get them vaccinated?

A: Although children and teens are at lower risk of serious infection, it’s still important to get them vaccinated. Even though it’s rare for kids to get seriously ill from COVID-19, it does happen. This is especially true for children and teens with underlying health conditions. Lower risk doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all – they can still be infected, get very sick or spread COVID-19 to others. A previous COVID-19 infection or exposure to someone with the virus also increases the risk of children developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a condition in which different parts of the body can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. Help protect your whole family by getting your children over 12 years old vaccinated.

Q. What vaccine will my child or teen receive?

A: Children 12 years and older will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. They will need a second dose approximately three weeks after their first shot. Studies show that protection occurs about two weeks after receiving a second dose. Pfizer is the only vaccine currently authorized for use in children and teens between 12 and 18 years of age.

Q. How can I know the vaccine is safe for my child or teen?

A: COVID-19 vaccines have been involved in the most intensive vaccine safety monitoring in U.S. history, which includes robust studies in children and teenagers. In clinical trials, enough teens and children participated to show that the vaccine is safe for those 12 years of age and older. We have no reason to believe children would tolerate the vaccine less favorably than adults. The vaccines were carefully studied in children before emergency use authorization was expanded to include this age group, and ongoing studies continue to follow vaccinated children and teens very closely for any rare or unexpected outcomes.

Q. Who should not get the vaccine?

A: Your child or teen should not get the vaccine if they have had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of the vaccine or if they have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient of the vaccine. Talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns, and rest assured, your child or teen will be monitored for 15-30 minutes after they receive the vaccine to watch for and treat any rare adverse reactions.

Q. How effective is the vaccine in children and teens?

A: The Pfizer vaccine is very effective and well tolerated in children ages 12 and up. In fact, we’re seeing higher efficacy rates in children than in adults, which is very encouraging. Pfizer recently reported a 100% efficacy rate in clinical trial participants between 12 and 15 years old. Participants made high levels of antibody response to the vaccine, and their immune response was just as strong as what has been seen in older teens and young adults between 16 and 25 years of age.

Q. What side effects should I expect?

A: Your child or teen may have some side effects, which are normal signs that their body is building protection. You can expect mild pain at the injection site, redness or swelling. Your child or teen may also experience mild tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever or nausea. Rest assured, these side effects should go away in a day or two. Ask your child’s pediatrician if you should offer non-aspirin pain relievers or try other methods to comfort your child. It is not recommended that you give your child or teen pain relievers before vaccination for the purpose of trying to prevent side effects. It’s also important to note that some kids and teens don’t have any side effects, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t working.

Q. Are there any long-term side effects I should know about?

A: No serious adverse reactions related to vaccination were reported in the Pfizer clinical trials for children. One concern we’ve heard about has been whether or not the vaccine alters a person’s DNA, and long-term effects associated with that. The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which uses only a gene from the virus to generate an immune response. It’s important to understand that the mRNA from a COVID-19 vaccine never enters the nucleus of a recipient’s cells, where your DNA is kept, so the vaccine does not interact with a person’s DNA in any way. This means that, like all other childhood immunizations, COVID-19 vaccines won’t interfere with puberty or future fertility. The CDC continues to closely monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in kids, teens and adults.

Q. Can my child or teen get COVID-19 or spread it from the vaccine?

A: It’s not possible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, which uses only a gene from the virus to generate an immune response. It’s not possible to get COVID-19 or to spread COVID-19 to someone else from the vaccination.

Q. When can I expect eligibility to expand to include children younger than 12?

A: While we can’t pinpoint exactly when eligibility will be expanded to those younger than 12 years old, studies are ongoing. Pfizer and Moderna currently have children as young as six months enrolled in their clinical trial studies. As more information becomes available, authorized age recommendations may change. In the meantime, please remember that individuals who are not vaccinated, including those younger than 12 years of age who are not yet eligible, are still at risk for becoming infected with COVID-19 and spreading the disease to others. They should continue wearing masks and following guidelines for non-vaccinated individuals.

 


 

Next steps

Widespread vaccination, which includes kids and teens, is a critical tool to help stop the current pandemic. If you have more questions, check out more frequently asked questions about the vaccine on our website. We also encourage you to discuss any concerns with your child’s pediatrician, so you can make a decision that’s right for you and your family.

Are you ready to get your child or teen vaccinated?
The COVID-19 vaccine is available at many locations throughout the state, including traditional settings like retail pharmacies, larger doctor’s offices and neighborhood health centers.

Appointments are recommended, but no longer required, at the state-run POD locations. Other locations may or may not require appointments, so we encourage you to check before you go. Be sure to look for an appointment for the Pfizer vaccine for children and teens between 12 and 17 years of age. Those 18 and older may choose any vaccine available. Find vaccine locations and appointments from: