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What do scientists say about vaccinating children against COVID-19?

This article was published on
July 26, 2021

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Children and teenagers are recommended to receive any COVID-19 vaccine allowed for emergency use as soon as it is available to them. Globally, the Pfizer vaccine has been deemed safe for children aged 12 years and older. COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to children under 12 years old as safety trials for this population are underway.

Children and teenagers are recommended to receive any COVID-19 vaccine allowed for emergency use as soon as it is available to them. Globally, the Pfizer vaccine has been deemed safe for children aged 12 years and older. COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to children under 12 years old as safety trials for this population are underway.

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What our experts say

Multiple health authorities, including the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend that children and teenagers receive any COVID-19 vaccine allowed for emergency use as soon as it is available to their age group. 

Globally, the Pfizer vaccine has been deemed safe for children aged 12 years and older. This vaccine is administered as two doses, given 3 weeks apart. Children are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose. The Pfizer vaccine can also be safely given with other childhood vaccines. On July 23, 2021, the European Medicine Agency’s (EMA) human medicines committee authorized emergency use of the Moderna vaccine, also referred to as Spikevax, in children between 12-17 years. 

Generally, children experience mild side effects similar to adults after receiving the Pfizer vaccine. These include fatigue, mild fever, muscle aches, and soreness at the injection site.

Rare cases of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, have been reported to the CDC since April 2021. Confirmed cases have mostly occurred among males aged 16 years or older within three days after the second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna). The rate among males aged 12-29 years was 40.6 cases per one million second doses. Among females of the same age group, it was 4.2 per one million second doses.

Symptoms of myocarditis include chest pain, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. Most cases were mild and resolved quickly. No fatalities have been associated. As of July 2021, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advises that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of heart problems. The EMA’s recommendations are in alignment with the CDC’s.

Context and background

In May 2021, Canada became the first country to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use among 12-15 year old children. The Pfizer vaccine was given the green light for this population by the United States Food and Drug Administration, EMA, Chilean Institute of Public Health, Japan Health Ministry, and Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines later that month. Throughout June 2021, Singapore, China, Israel, Dubai, and Brazil, began administering the Pfizer vaccine to children aged 12-15. 

Of note, authorization in the European Union differs from administration. The schedule for rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine for this population is determined by the discretion of EU member states. For example, France has begun vaccinating children ages 12 years and older, but Spain anticipates starting to offer vaccination in mid-August. 

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to children under 12 years old as safety trials for this population are underway. Researchers are evaluating the smallest dose needed to produce an immune response. Since younger children are undergoing key stages of growth, scientists are taking additional precaution to evaluate the long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines on development. Researchers anticipate that vaccines for children 6 months and older will be available by late 2021 or early 2022. Children who are unvaccinated or too young to receive the vaccine are urged to continue preventive measures, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, and washing their hands.

Resources

  1. COVID-19 advice for the public: Getting vaccinated (World Health Organization)
  2. COVID-19 Vaccines in Children and Adolescents (Pediatrics)
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics Guidance: the COVID-19 Vaccine Is Safe, Effective and Should Be Given to All Who Are Eligible (American Academy of Pediatrics)
  4. Children & Teens (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  5. COVID-19 vaccine Spikevax approved for children aged 12 to 17 in EU (European Medicines Agency)
  6. Children and COVID-19 Vaccines (JAMA Pediatrics)
  7. Can my child get a COVID-19 vaccine? (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
  8. Myocarditis and Pericarditis (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  9. Use of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine After Reports of Myocarditis Among Vaccine Recipients: Update from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, June 2021 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  10. COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than 12 years: are we ready? (The Lancet Infectious Diseases)
  11. Factbox: Countries vaccinating children against COVID-19 (Reuters)
  12. Children, COVID-19, and the vaccines (Association of American Medical Colleges)
  13. COVID-19 vaccines for kids: What has to happen first (Boston Children’s Hospital)

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