The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is now available for adolescents 12-15 years of age
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for use in adolescents ages 12-15. The recommendation follows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granting the vaccine Emergency Use Authorization for children of this age group.
Parents can get their child the COVID-19 vaccine at any place authorized to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Visit Vaccines.gov to find a location near you or call your local or county health department.
Widespread vaccination is a critical tool in stopping the pandemic, medical experts say.
“Children are very much part of the herd immunity picture,” says board-certified allergist Purvi Parikh, MD. “We can’t get out of this pandemic until our children are vaccinated, especially with schools reopening.
“I know there is a lot of hesitancy because parents are more protective of their children than themselves. What I say to them is that if your child gets this virus, it’s far scarier.”
In addition to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine is expected to become available for the 12-15 age group soon.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for children.
What is the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is a Messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine and it comes in two doses. It is designed to trigger an immune response that produces antibodies and protects people from getting infected when exposed to the real virus.
Is the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine effective in children?
The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was found to be 100% effective in children ages 12-15 in a recent clinical trial.
Nearly 2,300 adolescents participated in the clinical trial. Half were given the vaccine and half were given a placebo. None of the children who received the vaccine got COVID-19, while 16 in the placebo group did get it.
In addition, researchers said the vaccine’s antibody buildup was stronger in this age group than for older teens and adults.
Is the dose the same as what’s given to older teens and adults?
Yes. It has the same strength and requires two doses given 21 days apart. It is administered as an injection in a muscle, usually the arm.
When your child receives the first dose, make sure you schedule an appointment for the second dose.
What are the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine side effects?
Side effects were reported to be more common in the 12-15 age group than in those 16 and older.
Fatigue was the most common side effect reported, with 78% of the 12-15 age group reporting it as part of the clinical trial.
According to FDA, other side effects may include:
- pain, redness or swelling at the injection site
- muscle pain
- joint pain
- nonallergic reactions such as rash, itching, hives or swelling of the face
- swollen lymph nodes
- arm pain
What is the risk for allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine?
In the recent Pfizer/BioNTech clinical trial of the 12-15 age group, there were no reports of serious allergic reactions.
Cases of severe allergic reactions, or anaphylaxis, to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are very rare. As of Jan. 29, 2021, the anaphylaxis rate was five cases per 1 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses administered.
Cases of severe allergic reactions to all vaccines are also very rare. It’s estimated at 1.31 cases per 1 million vaccine doses given.
Signs of a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can include:
- difficulty breathing,
- hives or skin rash
- swelling of the face and/or throat
- rapid heartbeat
What is the allergic reaction protocol for the COVID-19 vaccine?
Any child with an allergy or risk of anaphylaxis to food, insect venom, oral medications, latex or environmental allergens is eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Your child should NOT get the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine if there is:
- a history of anaphylaxis to any ingredient of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine
- a history of non-severe immediate allergic reactions to any ingredient of the vaccine
- an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG is a component in the vaccine
- had a severe allergic reaction to a first dose of the vaccine
If you have any questions or concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine and allergic reactions consult with your doctor or allergist.
What is the benefit vs. risk for children getting the COVID-19 vaccine?
Now that children ages 12-15 are eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, parents may have questions about it. Some may be concerned about the risk of long-term side effects or allergic reactions.
Medical experts continue to emphasize the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine outweigh any potential risks.
Benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine include:
- Preventing your child from getting COVID-19 or from becoming seriously ill or dying due to COVID-19
- Preventing your child from spreading the virus to others
- Increasing community-wide protection from COVID-19, making it harder for the virus to spread
- Preventing the COVID-19 virus from replicating and possibly become more resistant to vaccines
What are the risks of not getting vaccinated and then getting COVID-19? While most children who get COVID-19 tend to experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, some do get severely ill. A CDC report from September 2020 revealed that adolescents and older children are more at risk for serious COVID-19 cases than younger children.
As of May 21, 2021, among states reporting age data, more than 3.9 million children – about 14% – have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. There have been at least 16,013 hospitalizations and 308 deaths in children of all ages. Three out of four of children who died from COVID-19 had an underlying medical condition such as asthma, obesity or a heart condition. In addition, children who have died of COVID-19 are disproportionately children of color. About 75% of all pediatric deaths have been children of color.
Medical researchers are also investigating cases of a rare but serious condition affecting some children with COVID-19. It’s called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) and symptoms involve inflammation of body organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, brain. It’s unknown at this time what the risk factors are for developing MIS-C.
Will there be a vaccine mandate for back to school in the fall?
This will depend on the state you live in – and possibly the school district your child attends.
It’s likely that full regulatory approval of the vaccine is needed before any mandate could be put into place. All of the available COVID-19 vaccines are approved for Emergency Use Authorization only.
Can my child get other routine vaccinations at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine?
The CDC says healthcare professionals can administer other routine vaccinations, such as for measles and HPV, at the same time as the COVID-19 shot. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports this as well.
Routine vaccinations have fallen off during the pandemic. Doctors say it’s important that children resume vaccinations.
When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available for children younger than 12?
COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials among children younger than 12 are ongoing. Trials even involve infants.
It is expected that Pfizer/BioNTech will apply to FDA for Emergency Use Authorization of the 2-11 age group in September 2021.
What should I do if my child is not vaccinated against COVID-19?
If your child is not vaccinated, it’s important they continue to take preventive steps to avoid getting or spreading the COVID-19 virus. This includes: practicing social distancing and avoiding large crowds of people; wearing a mask outside the home; and washing hands often.