For parents who’ve waited months for approval of COVID vaccines for children under 5, the wait is finally over: After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bans the use of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID vaccines for children from 6 months old on Saturday, vaccinations for the youngest age group are now slowly rolling out across the country.
But many parents have questions about giving the vaccine to their young children — from how far apart the injections should be spaced to questions about its efficacy and side effects and even whether their child will need the injections if they, like 75 percent of the population, have. children in the US are already infected.
That’s why Yahoo Life reached out to pediatricians to answer some of the most common questions parents have about the vaccine for children under age 5.
For children who have already contracted COVID – especially if they have been exposed to the most recent variant – should they still receive the vaccine?
Yes, say experts, including the CDC. “It’s definitely worth getting vaccinated,” says Dr. Catherine Mary Healy, associate professor of pediatrics infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, told Yahoo Life. “While it is true that children who have received COVID may be protected from infection for several months afterward, we are not sure how long that protection will last or how effective it will be against new variants.”
While there is protection against natural immunity, Dr. Alok Patel, pediatric hospital at Stanford Children’s Health, told Yahoo Life: “It’s hard to say how durable and protective it is over time – it varies from person to person. The primary vaccine line is highly protective against serious illness and/or death .”
Like dr. Purva Grover, medical director for pediatric emergency services at Cleveland Clinic and part of their COVID-19 vaccine distribution committee, tells Yahoo Life, “Infection will not replace the vaccine.”
Healy also points out that studies show that post-infection vaccination “improves protection against reinfection and against serious disease.” She explains that “it’s important to make sure children are protected as we learn about some of the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 infection, even if some of these conditions are in place” — such as MIS-C ( multisystem inflammatory syndrome) – being uncommon or rare.” MIS-C is a rare condition that occurs one to two months after natural infection, sometimes after an asymptomatic infection, Healy explains.
How long after a child’s COVID infection should parents wait before getting the vaccine?
Experts recommend talking with your child’s pediatrician to determine the best timing to have your child vaccinated after a COVID infection. That’s because the situation can vary based on a child’s medical history, including personal or family risk of serious illness if reinfection occurs, along with the infection rates in their community.
That said, “many scientists and doctors recommend waiting a few weeks, at least until all symptoms have gone away,” notes Patel. “If a child has received monoclonal antibodies while being treated for a COVID infection, it is recommended that they wait 90 days before receiving a vaccine.”
In general, the CDC states that COVID vaccination should be “deferred until a person has recovered from their illness and the isolation period has ended,” Healy says. However, she points out that parents should consider delaying vaccination until three months after infection, “because we know that natural infection provides protection for weeks to months and the chance of reinfection during that time is low.”
How spread out should the shots be?
With Pfizer’s 3-dose vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years of age, the first two doses are given at least 3 weeks apart and up to 8 weeks apart, followed by a third dose at least 8 weeks after the second injection.
For the 2 dose Moderna vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years of age, the first dose and the second dose are given at least 4 weeks apart and up to 8 weeks apart.
How long does it take for a child under 5 to be fully vaccinated after completing all shots?
A child is considered fully immunized two weeks after completing the last recommended injection, notes Grover. “This is because it takes 10 to 14 days for the immune response to be at maximum levels,” explains Healy. “This doesn’t mean there’s no response within 14 days of shooting, just that it’s not at maximum levels.”
Since it takes two weeks for the shots to be fully protective, Patel suggests that “parents should keep this timing in mind when planning trips, summer camps, or a return to school in the fall.”
What side effects can parents expect from the vaccines?
As with most routine vaccines, the most common side effects parents can expect are pain, redness, and tenderness in the limb where the injection was given. “Some children may also experience a fever or fatigue and irritability, headache, or muscle aches,” notes Healy. “Less commonly, there may be swelling of the glands.”
Most of these side effects are mild and disappear within two to three days. However, experts suggest that parents contact their child’s primary care provider if they have specific concerns about side effects from the vaccines or if your child experiences other symptoms, such as shortness of breath. “If you, as a parent, don’t like how something feels, go ahead and seek medical advice,” Grover says. “Never doubt yourself.”
Tips to reduce discomfort in children during and after shooting?
Distracting your child during the shot, followed by a reward, are “always great tools,” Patel says.
Some ideas for distraction include reading to them or having them watch a video on your smartphone. But technology-free options also work well. “Some studies have shown that just cuddling, hugging, or holding the hand after an injection can help children cope with this discomfort,” Healy says.
You can also ask your child’s pediatrician to numb the area with an ice pack to relieve immediate discomfort before the vaccine is given. After the injection, if needed, a non-aspirin pediatric pain reliever or a cool, damp cloth on the site where the injection was given can “work wonders to relieve the pain,” Patel says.
Moving the extremity after the shot also helps. “The more they move, they seem to recover better,” Grover says.
How effective is the vaccine in children under 5 years of age, as the dosage is lower than in other age groups?
Early data suggests that Pfizer’s 3-dose COVID vaccine is 80 percent effective in children under the age of 5, which Grover says is “significantly higher than most of the other childhood vaccines we receive annually.”
Moderna’s 2-dose vaccine is 51 percent effective in preventing disease in children 6 months to 2 years old and 37 percent effective in children 2 to 5 years old.
“The dose is smaller for this vaccine – at 3-ug [micrograms]it is one-tenth the adult dose – and this was carefully selected to ensure the vaccine was well tolerated in such a young population,” explains Patel.
But, as Healy points out, just because the vaccine dose is lower in children than in older age groups, “it doesn’t follow that it’s less effective, just that it’s age-appropriate.”
Doses for pediatric vaccines are set at a certain amount “because clinical studies show that the dose chosen is safe, well tolerated, induces a good immune response and is effective,” explains Healy. “Children receive lower doses of antibiotics than adults, but the antibiotics work just as well.”
How important is it for children under 5 to get vaccinated?
Experts agree that it is “very important” that children under the age of 5 are vaccinated. “Parents should absolutely try to get their young children vaccinated — especially those parents of children with underlying medical conditions or who live in the same household as high-risk individuals,” Patel says.
While fewer children become seriously ill from COVID-19 than adults, Healy says, “some do and we can’t predict who these children are.” In addition, Healy notes that emerging evidence shows that “even children without underlying health conditions can experience a wide variety of new or ongoing health problems, ranging from ‘mild’ (coughing, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or physical activity) to the rare occurrence of MIS. -C after being infected, adding that studies in older children show that vaccination can help protect against MIS-C.
In addition to protecting their own health, vaccinating children can help protect others. “Part of it is community transmission, including their own little community — parents, relatives who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed, people in their little bubble who will be much more protected and safer if they get vaccinated,” Grover says.
Patel agrees, saying, “Vaccines, in general, will reduce the risk of community spread and symptomatic disease, which in turn will lead to a reduction in transmission to others.” In addition, it also decreases the circulation of the virus, Healy notes, “making the virus less likely to adapt and evolve into new variants, which may be more transmissible and lead to serious disease.”
How long will the vaccine be effective?
“That’s probably a million-dollar question,” says Grover, noting that there are currently “ongoing studies” on how long protective antibodies last in both adults and children.
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