Kids 12+ Are Now Eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine. Here's What You Should Know.
Kids ages 12 and up are now eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Get answers to top questions about vaccine safety from Michael Cinoman, MD, Cone Health Pediatric Services Executive Medical Director.
Is the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine safe for kids?
“Fortunately, incredibly safe. It has been studied and the short-term side effects are essentially exactly the same as they are for adults, which people are hopefully familiar with at this point. You get a sore arm, some small proportion of patients can get fever, chills, fatigue body aches, but otherwise the vaccine is incredibly well tolerated and in terms of its longer term safety, all the data that has been collected so far both in the studies and our experience in adults has shown the vaccine to be very, very safe and very well tolerated.”
Why should parents trust that the vaccine is safe for their children?
“This vaccine was done in an incredibly rapid time turnaround as to typically how long it takes to get vaccines certified and through the Food and Drug Administration, but actually, no corners were cut in the development or study of the vaccine. The studies that were done were typically up to the standard and the review that they went through by the agencies, the FDA, was the same as it would be for any other vaccine that's given emergency authorization.”
“The reviews were thorough. They were done independently from the people who did the studies and the results were analyzed just like they are for any other vaccine. So yes, the turnaround was certainly quick for the benefit of the country and all the people and children who can now get it and for helping us get out of the pandemic, but the vaccines were studied very thoroughly. And all the people who have been vaccinated – the studies are still going on to evaluate how long people have immunity and whether there are indeed rare unusual side effects. But so far, everything's going great.”
The study showed that the vaccine was 100% effective in children ages 12-15 years old. What does that mean exactly?
“The study did show that it was 100% effective for 12- to 15-year-olds, and we're talking specifically, by the way, about the Pfizer vaccine, which is the vaccine that was studied for the Pediatric age population. That's the only study that we that we received emergency approval for. But the Pfizer vaccine was 100% effective in the over one thousand children who received the vaccine in the study. There were no infections at all, compared to the control group, so, that's what's meant by 100% effectiveness. Now, in practicality, if you vaccinated a billion people, would it be 100% effective? I don't think anybody knows that answer, but again, with the evidence that we have, it appears to be as far as vaccines go incredibly effective at preventing disease.”
“[In the study,] in children, actually nobody got infected with it. But really what you want to achieve with most vaccines is – it's pretty hard to create a vaccine where nobody actually gets infected. What you try to prevent and what's so important with COVID for children and adults is to prevent the complications. Unlike the flu and other colds and viruses that we see in children and adults, this one is absolutely not something that anybody would want. As you all know many, many adults have died from this. Many have had severe lingering effects and been sick, not just for days but for weeks at a time. This is a miserable, difficult, life-threatening infection, and although children can seem to get it less often and have less severe cases, it can be just as severe and life-threatening for them as it is for adults. It is, again, something nobody wants at all.”
Are there any 12- to 15-year-olds who should not get the vaccine?
“Very few should not get the vaccine. The exclusion population is very minimal, and it really is the same as adults – the only people who it's really counter-indicated for are people who have had a severe allergic reaction to the first dose of vaccine or have a known allergy to one of the components of the vaccine, which is polyethylene glycol, which is a common, well-tolerated, carrier for the material that the vaccine works in. And again, those are exceedingly rare.”
“In terms of what illnesses or special populations of children should not get them, there really aren't any at all. So we're recommending that to just about everybody who's eligible to receive the vaccine. And in some senses, it's even more important theoretically in children with high risk conditions who have a tendency to have a tougher time with viruses than otherwise healthy children.”
Are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine different in kids than in adults?
“[The side effects] are essentially exactly the same and the frequency that we see them is exactly the same. So whatever we know about adults is exactly the same information we're telling parents about their children. It's very common, of course, when you get a shot to get a sore arm for a day or two. A relatively small number of children, probably under 20%, will get some type of what you would say would be a systemic reaction, where they'd have a fever or just if they don't have a fever, feel fatigued for a day or so, very tired. And then usually after 24 to 36 hours, it completely runs its course and people feel back to normal. And again, that's really the minority of the people that are getting the vaccine. Most tolerate it very well.”
If kids do develop minor side effects, what can parents do to help treat the symptoms?
“It’s fine to give Tylenol or ibuprofen, just as recommended and dosed for a child their size or age. Another common question we get related to that is, ‘Should I pre-medicate my child before they get the vaccine?’ And the answer is no. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC do not recommend doing that. But if symptoms develop, it is perfectly fine to treat those with the usual medications”
Where can kids 12+ get the COVID-19 vaccine?
“Cone Health has been offering it since Friday of last week at one of our vaccine clinic sites. So there are really two ways – the sites vary. There's a site in Burlington and the site in the Greensboro Coliseum that we've had for many months available for adults now is giving them to 12- to 15-year-olds. People can find an appointment on www.conehealth.com/vaccine, or there's a phone number that you can call and make an appointment. That phone number is 336-890-1188, and walk-ins are accepted as well. We like to have walk-ins 2 hours before the clinic is scheduled to close just so that the clinic runs smoothly.”
“And since you brought up our clinic sites, I would add that we've actually done special things for our pediatric population. There are pediatric trained clinicians that are newly there that were not there before for adults. People who have given vaccines to children before, who are comfortable with children, and we have tables that are kind of sectioned off from the adult area to make children and parents a little more comfortable when they get their vaccines. There are people there who are experienced giving vaccines to our teenage population.”