What to know: COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5-11

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expanded its COVID-19 vaccine recommendation to include children ages 5-11, making about 28 million additional children now eligible for vaccination.

The CDC decision follows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for this age group.

In explaining its recommendation, the CDC cites a surge of COVID-19 cases in children throughout the summer in which the spread of the Delta variant resulted in a fivefold increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents. Hospitalization rates were 10 times higher among unvaccinated than in fully vaccinated adolescents.

The CDC promotes preventive measures, including vaccinations, which may be critical in helping to reduce transmission and severe outcomes in children.

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the vaccine in young children from Dr. Arethusa Kirk, a pediatrician and chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare:

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children 5 and up?

Before recommending the vaccination for children, scientists conducted clinical trials to help determine the safety and efficacy. Based on that data, the FDA determined the Pfizer vaccine met the criteria for emergency use authorization. The COVID-19 vaccines continue to be part of the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.

Which vaccine is available for children in the 5-11 age group?

Young children are currently able to get a two-shot regimen of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The pediatric dose is one-third the size of the adult version. It comes in unique packaging to ensure dose distinction and patient safety. The two shots are given 21 days apart using smaller needles designed specifically for young children.

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds?

Some children have no issues, but others may have some side effects, which may be normal signs that their body is building protection. The CDC says the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks. 

The most common side effect has been a sore arm in the area where the shots are given. Headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea have also been reported. These side effects usually go away in a few days.

The CDC does not recommend giving a child pain relievers before a vaccination to prevent side effects. Be sure to consult with your child’s health care provider for tips to help relieve site-injection pain, in case your child experiences it.

Allergic reactions and cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, are rare. There is also no evidence the vaccine causes fertility problems. Additionally, your child cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.

Does COVID-19 really even affect children?

While overall COVID-19 tends to be milder in young people compared to adults, thousands of children have been hospitalized with severe illness and hundreds have died. Additionally, the virus may result in an inflammatory syndrome and complications that can linger for months, which is especially impactful for children and youth as they develop. 

The CDC notes children with underlying medical conditions are more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to children without conditions, but the agency recommends all children 5 and older get vaccinated as soon as possible to help slow the spread.

How effective is the COVID-19 vaccine in children?

In clinical trials, the vaccine was nearly 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 among children ages 5 to 11.

The CDC says vaccinating children who are 5 years and older may help keep them in the learning environment of a school and help them safely participate in sports, playdates and other group activities.

Additionally, vaccinating kids may help protect family members, including siblings who are not eligible for vaccination and relatives who may be at an increased risk of getting severely ill, if they are infected.

Can my child get the COVID-19 shot with other vaccines?

Yes, children may get a COVID-19 shot with other vaccines, including one that protects against the seasonal flu.

What should I plan for at my child’s vaccination appointment?

Your child’s appointment may be similar to other routine vaccinations. Ask questions about any concerns you may have when you schedule an appointment. Consider sharing information with your child before the vaccination to help make it a positive, calm experience. Here are other things to remember:

  • Tell the doctor or nurse if your child has any allergies
  • Keep your child seated or lying down during the vaccination to help avoid fainting
  • After vaccination, you’ll be asked to stay for 15-30 minutes for observation
  • After the first shot, schedule the second
  • Keep the vaccination card you will receive 

The COVID-19 vaccines are available at thousands of pediatric health care offices, pharmacies, federal health centers and other locations. Visit vaccines.gov for more information.