Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Is Now Authorized for Ages 12 and Up. Here’s What Parents Need to Know

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12 – another major step toward ending the pandemic and getting back to your family’s favorite activities.

Connecticut Children’s Physician-in-Chief Juan C. Salazar, MD, MPH, returns to the Growing Healthy blog to answer common questions about the vaccine and younger adolescents.

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My child is healthy. How important is it for them to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Very important. It’s great that your child is healthy – and we want to keep them healthy.

While most kids do not become seriously ill from COVID-19, a small number do get very sick and need hospitalization. Even those who feel fine still miss out on school and important social interactions, and may experience troubling side effects like loss of taste and smell or headaches. There may also be long-term impacts of COVID-19, which we’re currently studying at Connecticut Children’s.

The vaccine is the best way to keep your child safe from all of these risks. It’s also crucial in order for our community to achieve broad immunity from COVID-19.

 

Is the Pfizer vaccine for ages 12 and up any different from the Pfizer vaccine for ages 16 and up?

It is the exact same vaccine – it just took time to test in this younger age group. This is common for vaccine development, where testing begins in adults, followed by progressively younger age groups.

As with older ages, the vaccine is administered in two doses, spaced three weeks apart. It uses mRNA technology, which has been studied for more than a decade. There is no live virus involved – the mRNA molecule is simply a messenger that tells the body how to create an immune response. Then it’s quickly broken down by the body and disappears.

> Related: What Does Life Look Like After the Vaccine?

What was Pfizer’s testing process for its COVID-19 vaccine in ages 12 to 15?

Shortly after Pfizer’s vaccine was authorized for emergency use in ages 16 and up, the company began testing the same vaccine in younger children, collecting information about the vaccine’s safety and whether it triggered a similar immune response for younger ages. The trial included nearly 2,300 adolescents between 12 and 15 years old: Half received the same two-dose regimen used for older ages, and half received a placebo for comparison. The FDA reviewed the results and concluded that the vaccine is safe and effective for 12- to 15-year-olds too.

Will the Pfizer vaccine be as effective for ages 12 to 15 as it is for older individuals?

Connecticut Children's team member provides a COVID-19 vaccine to teen patient

Yes – in fact, it appears to be even more effective, thanks to the strong immune response of younger adolescents.

> Related: Is Your Child Scared of Needles? Here’s How to Prepare for Their Vaccine

Is the Pfizer vaccine linked to any health risks in younger adolescents?

No, there are no known health risks from the vaccine. The FDA has carefully reviewed the data from the clinical trials in the 12 to 15 group and concluded that it’s safe for these ages, and the information from millions of individuals ages 16 and up who have already received the vaccine support this.

The risk that we are most concerned about is of your child catching COVID-19. The best way to protect them is with the vaccine.

Will short-term side effects from the first or second shot (like a sore arm) be the same for 12- to 15-year-olds as older individuals?

After receiving any vaccine, it’s common to have short-term effects like a sore arm, fever, chills or headache in the next 24 hours. Not everyone experiences these symptoms, but when they do, it’s a normal part of the body’s immune response.

All of these effects are possible for younger adolescents who receive the COVID-19 vaccine. In Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trials, fevers were slightly more common among the 12- to 15-year-olds than in older age groups.

If my child already had COVID-19, should they still get the vaccine?

Yes. Once 90 days have passed from the infection, the CDC recommends that they get the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

Should any children NOT get the vaccine – for example, kids with certain underlying health conditions?

Almost every eligible child should get the vaccine. One rare exception is kids who have had a severe allergic reaction to a similar vaccine, but they are very few and far between.

But as always, if you have questions about your child and the COVID-19 vaccine, please reach out to your child’s pediatrician. We’re here to guide you.

> Related: If Everyone But Your Child Has Their COVID-19 Vaccine, Is Travel Safe for Your Family?

What about younger adolescents and others who are currently undergoing chemotherapy. Is it safe for them to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. It’s possible that the vaccine might not be as effective for an individual with a weakened immune systems, which can occur with chemotherapy. But the vaccine is safe, and offers at least some protection. That’s especially important for this group, who are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Your child’s care team will always know best, so please reach out to your child’s doctor for help with their specific vaccine plan.

Besides Pfizer, are any other COVID-19 vaccines currently available for ages 12 and up?

Not yet. Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and others have announced trials for their own vaccines, so it’s possible that we’ll have a vaccine for ages 12 and up from more than one company soon.

When will we know more about a COVID-19 vaccine for kids under the age of 12?

We expect to see data from vaccine tests in children as young as 2 years old by September or October. It’s possible we’ll see information on the vaccine in children as young as 6 months by the end of the year.

> Related: What’s the Risk? Which Activities Are Safe When Kids Aren’t Vaccinated Yet

Is Connecticut Children’s offering the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes! Connecticut Children’s is proud to support the state’s COVID-19 vaccination effort, beginning with our existing patients ages 12 and up. Visit our vaccine information page for the latest updates and resources.

The vaccine is the best way to protect your child from COVID-19. It’s also crucial for our community to reach widespread immunity and return to the traditions and activities we cherish. Please schedule your child’s vaccine as soon as they’re eligible.

 

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