COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccines for Children

February 8, 2022
Dr. Christine Hahn, state epidemiologist

The number of children ages 5-11 years vaccinated against COVID-19 in Idaho remains very low, at less than 15 percent. We understand  parents have questions about the vaccines and how safe they are for their children. Please consider the information below, and talk to your child’s healthcare provider about any additional concerns you might have.

Pfizer and BioNTech have asked the FDA  to amend the emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 vaccine to include children younger than 5 years. It is important for parents of young children to be confident that the vaccines continue to be safe and effective at consistently preventing serious COVID-19 illness, hospitalization, and even death.

Why is the vaccine needed if children have milder symptoms?

While children do generally fare better than adults, they are as likely to be infected with COVID-19 as adults and can:

  • Get very sick from COVID-19
  • Have both short- and long-term health effects from COVID-19, including long COVID
  • Spread COVID-19 to others at home and school and other locations

As of mid-October 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages 5 through 11 years have experienced more than 8,300 COVID-19-related hospitalizations and nearly 100 deaths from COVID-19. In fact, according to the CDC, COVID-19 may rank as one of the top 10 causes of death for children ages 5 through 11 years. In Idaho, 334 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and two  have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Children who get infected with COVID-19 also can develop serious complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) — a condition where different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. Since the pandemic began, more than 2,300 cases of MIS-C have been reported in children ages 5 through 11 years, including 18 in Idaho.

Children with underlying medical conditions are more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared with children without underlying medical conditions.

Vaccines have been shown to prevent COVID-19 infection and its complications in children, including severe illness, hospitalization, and death.  

Are the vaccines safe for children ages 5-11?

COVID-19 vaccines are being monitored for safety with the most comprehensive and intense safety monitoring program in U.S. history. The CDC monitors the safety of all COVID-19 vaccines after they are authorized or approved for use, including the risk of myocarditis in children ages 5 through 11 years.

Cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) have been reported after Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination of children ages 12–17 years. During clinical trials, no cases of myocarditis occurred in children ages 5 through 11 years who received the COVID-19 vaccine.

When will vaccines be approved for children younger than 5?

Pfizer and BioNTech have started the process to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months of age and older but younger than 5 years. They submitted data to FDA to support their request on February 1. No one knows for sure how long that will take, but it could be as soon as the end of February.

Here’s a good description of the process: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/02/02/1077376625/covid-vaccine-kids-under-5

Moderna is also currently in clinical trials for a vaccine for children younger than 5 and plans to submit data to the FDA in March.

Will children need a booster?

We don’t know yet if children younger than 5 years will need a booster. We will know more after the FDA finishes reviewing the data for the COVID-19 vaccine for this age group.

A booster is currently recommended for everyone 12 years and older who are fully vaccinated. Boosters are not currently recommended for children ages 5-11. Learn more about staying up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccines: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/stay-up-to-date.html

Dr. Christine Hahn is Idaho’s state epidemiologist and the Division of Public Health’s medical director. She is board certified in infectious disease and works in the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho’s tuberculosis clinic twice monthly. She also serves on CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and since late February 2020, has been focusing almost solely on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.