On May 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for emergency use in kids as young as 12 years old, making critical advancements in the nation’s fight against COVID-19. This news comes at a moment when positive cases in kids are on the rise, amounting to more than 22 percent of confirmed positives.
All this to say that protecting kids from COVID is an important step in ending the pandemic and reentering the world as we once knew it. But what do parents and caregivers need to know about vaccinating adolescents against this virus? We answer your questions below.
Q: Who is eligible for the COVID vaccine?
As of May 10, 2021, children as young as 12 years old are now eligible only for the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna vaccine is available only to those who are 18 and older. Clinical trials are underway for younger children and there is currently no date available for when our smallest kids will be vaccinated.
Q: Do my kids really need the COVID vaccine?
Yes, here’s why: since the pandemic began in 2019, an estimated 3.85 million children have been sickened with COVID-19. And though the vast majority experienced only mild or asymptomatic cases, a small percentage of children have had a severe illness or have died.
Researchers are still unsure of the long-term effects of kids developing COVID, though there’s evidence to suggest that heart complications may be an issue for some. What’s more, experts are discovering that kids can also become COVID long-haulers, experiencing myriad symptoms like chronic fatigue and shortness of breath long after their initial diagnosis. And some, still, develop a serious, potentially fatal complication called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome—in some cases, experiencing onset weeks after recovering from even mild cases of COVID.
When it comes to long-haul symptoms of the virus, Dr. Jean Ballweg, a pediatric cardiologist at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, had this to say to Kaiser Health News: “The question I can never answer for the parents, is why one child and not another?”
Q: Is the vaccine safe for kids?
“Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations,” the Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control has stated that the rollout of the COVID vaccine is the most “intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.” Over 259 million people have been safely vaccinated against the virus in the U.S.—and that’s after clinical trials were conducted on tens of thousands of volunteers.
As far as the pervasive myth that the COVID vaccines somehow alter our DNA, which would be especially concerning for little ones, Dr. Bryn Boslett, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, put that worry to rest.
I’m not at all worried about there being any kind of damage to a person’s DNA from these vaccines.
“The mRNA is a just temporary message. After the spike protein gets made, your body destroys the mRNA so it doesn’t stick around in the body. It doesn’t mix with any genetic code. It doesn’t go into your DNA. I’m not at all worried about there being any kind of damage to a person’s DNA from these vaccines,” Dr. Boslett said in a statement to the University of San Francisco.
Q: What side effects to the vaccine can kids and their parents expect?
As the American Academy of Pediatrics reported, the jury is still out on immediate side effects for kids, though those 16 and older have frequently reported the following:
- Pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site
- Muscle soreness
- Fever and chills