What you need to know about Covid vaccines for children under 5

Now that children under 5 are eligible to receive Covid vaccinesalmost anyone in the United States can get vaccinated against the virus – but some questions persist for parents of young children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week authorized Pfizer’s three-dose vaccine series and Moderna’s two-dose vaccine series for children under age 5. Pfizer’s vaccine is for children aged 6 months to 4 years – the drugmaker already had a licensed vaccine for 5-year-olds – and Moderna’s is for children aged 6 months to 5 years.

On Tuesday, health workers began vaccinating children under 5 against the virus. Appointments may be limited at firstWhite House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters earlier this month, largely due to initial high demand: There are about 18 million American children in the age group and 10 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna have been made available to state and local authorities by the federal government.

But Jha said he anticipated that after a few weeks most parents who were considering having their children vaccinated should easily be able to do so. This means that you have some time to find the best strategy for your child’s health.

Here’s what medical experts say you should know:

Should children under 5 be vaccinated against Covid – and if so, when?

The answer to “should I have my child vaccinated against Covid?” is a resounding “yes”, especially given the potential deadly effects of the virus on young children.

Following the emergence of the omicron variant of Covid in December, child hospitalizations have skyrocketed and reached a pandemic peak. Covid is the fifth leading cause of death in children aged 1 to 4 since March 2020, according to a CDC Analysis death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

And while vaccines won’t offer full protection against Covid infection, they are very likely to significantly alleviate symptoms, saving your child from needing hospitalization.

“There are myths, and one of them is that children don’t get seriously ill,” says Dr. Jill Foster, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School, “But children get seriously ill and they are able to pass it on to their family members.”

It may be tempting to wait until the fall, when school starts, to have your child vaccinated. That’s a bad idea, says Dr. Allen Radner, an infectious disease expert and chief medical officer at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System in California.

“The vaccine is not 100% effective immediately,” says Radner. The Pfizer series of vaccines are given over a three-month period and the Moderna series over a one-month period. Radner also notes that the longer you wait, the more likely your child is to catch Covid while not yet vaccinated and become “ill or seriously ill”.

How Worried Should You Be About Side Effects?

Experts say the side effects of the Covid vaccine are relatively minimal and short-lived in young children, especially compared to older children and adolescents. This is good news for parents across the country.

“Overall, young children under five appear to have lower rates of side effects than older children and adolescents,” says Dr. Karen Acker, pediatric infectious disease expert at Weill Cornell Medical Center. and at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “This is also consistent with what we are seeing for other vaccines.”

Some common side effects of vaccines in young children include pain at the injection site, fever, fatigue, and irritability. Moderna’s vaccines are more likely to cause these side effects than Pfizer’s vaccines, according to clinical trial data. Neither vaccine caused any form of myocarditis — inflammation of the heart wall — in the preliminary data.

Yet, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey as of May, only one in five parents of children under 5 said they would have their child immunized as soon as the vaccine was made available to that age group. One possible explanation: the idea that vaccines are useless, since they are does not necessarily prevent people to get sick.

Acker says it’s flawed logic: Unvaccinated people always have a higher risk of contracting Covid, and vaccinations prevent a large percentage of people from getting serious illness, reducing hospitalizations and deaths across the country.

“You don’t know when your child might be exposed next, so the sooner you get your child vaccinated, the sooner they’ll be protected,” says Acker, “We can’t always anticipate when new variants will emerge, so I I think it’s better to be ready as soon as possible.”

Are Pfizer or Moderna better for small children?

Moderna’s series of vaccines may carry a higher risk of temporary side effects — but its immunity boost kicks in earlier than Pfizer’s series, likely due to the doses given over a shorter period of time, says Foster.

“Both vaccines are very good,” says Foster. “The Moderna vaccine comes into effect a little earlier, but the preliminary data we have shows that the protection of the Pfizer vaccine may last a little longer.”

Preliminary data gives Pfizer the edge in protection: approximately 75% effective in preventing illnesses caused by omicron in children aged 6 months to 2 years, compared to 51% for the Moderna series. For 2- to 4-year-olds, Pfizer’s vaccines were about 82 percent effective against omicron, compared to 37 percent for Moderna’s 2- to 5-year-olds.

But these data can be misleading. “It’s difficult because a lot of Pfizer data was collected before omicron, and for Moderna data, more was collected after omicron,” says Foster.

Overall, Acker suggests “getting the vaccine available.” Either, she says, will get the job done – and do it well.

“What’s great about both vaccines is that we know they’re both effective in mounting good antibody responses,” she says.

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