Is there a COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12?

Yes! The FDA granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5-11 years old in late October. Subsequently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recommends this vaccine in children five to 11 years old. These decisions were based on data obtained from clinical trials looking at the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine in kids.  The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine remains the only vaccine approved for children under age 18 at this time, and there is still no vaccine for children four and under. 

Which children should receive a vaccine?

The CDC now recommends that everyone ages five and older receive the coronavirus vaccine.

We know that a person can spread COVID-19 to others even if they have no symptoms. When young people become infected, they can spread it to others who are at high risk of having severe COVID-19 disease, such as their parents or grandparents. We have personally cared for people with COVID-19 in the hospital who contracted it from younger friends or family. Making sure everyone who can get the vaccine receives it also protects people with weakened immune systems in whom the vaccine may not be effective. Think of getting vaccinated as a way to protect yourself, your loved ones, and the people around you.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

The COVID-19 vaccines have gone through extensive testing and continual safety monitoring. The data indicate that these vaccines are safe and effective at reducing the risk of serious illness or hospitalization from the coronavirus. For those who are unvaccinated, COVID-19 can cause serious illness or death in any age group, and the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks of side effects that may occur from the vaccines. 

What side effects can children have to the COVID-19 vaccine?

The most common side effects from the vaccine in children are pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site. In addition, tiredness, headache, nausea, chills, muscle pain, or fever may occur. 

While extremely rare, there have been reports of young people developing myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) or pericarditis (inflammation of the sac that surrounds the heart) after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. We believe that myocarditis and pericarditis are true side effects of these vaccines. These side effects most often occur in adolescent boys and young adults, most often after the second dose, with onset within a few days of vaccination. The vast majority of those who were affected completely recovered within a few days, and to date no deaths have occurred from this vaccine side effect. You can get more information here.

There also have been rare reports of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) after vaccination, so vaccines should be given in a monitored setting, where severe allergic reactions can be quickly detected and treated.

What type of vaccine is approved for children under 12? Will there be others?

At this time only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is approved for children. Others may follow, and you can stay up to date at the CDC’s website

My child had COVID-19. Should he/she still get a vaccine?

Yes. While natural immunity can help prevent sickness, it appears to diminish over time and you could still get COVID-19. A vaccine will give your body a stronger and longer immune reaction to the virus.

Will the vaccine be required for school?

Each state determines which vaccines are required for school/childcare centers. At this point, there is no requirement for children to get the COVID-19 vaccine in order to attend school in Rhode Island. It is unclear if it will be required in the future.

Can COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?

There is no truth to this myth. Moreover, many women who have received the vaccines have become pregnant. 

If you are unsure of whether your child should receive a vaccination, talk with your child’s pediatrician. 

For more information on keeping children healthy and happy, visit the Growing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

Katrina M. Byrd, MD, and Silvia Chiang, MD

Dr. Katrina M. Byrd is an internist specializing in infectious diseases.

Dr. Silvia Chiang is a  pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Rhode Island Hospital, Hasbro Children's Hospital and The Miriam Hospital.