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Are Covid-19 vaccines safe for kids? What parents should know

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said on Sept. 20 that their Covid-19 was found safe to use among children 5 to 11 years old and generated a strong immune response in them, bringing shots for more kids a step closer to distribution. The Food and Drug Administration has already authorized Pfizer’s vaccine for use in children 12 to 15 years. The shot is the first cleared for administration in the younger age group, after the FDA last December approved the vaccine for ages 16 and up. Here is what you need to know about Covid-19 vaccines and children:

When will children get the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine?

Some 64% of people in the U.S. ages 12 and over are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some older people and people with compromised immune systems have begun to receive booster shots as well.

Vaccination among children ages 5 to 12 could start within weeks. Pfizer and BioNTech said they are sharing data from a late-stage study with U.S. regulators and expect to file the application seeking authorization within a matter of weeks. That could mean the companies’ Covid-19 vaccine is cleared for the young children between Halloween and Thanksgiving, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. Pfizer said results of a study of younger children, ages 6 months to under 5 years, could come by the fourth quarter this year.

Do we need to vaccinate children?

Yes, according to most infectious-disease experts. Children can and do get sick from Covid-19, though research shows they typically experience milder cases and are much less likely than adults and the elderly to be hospitalized or die from the virus. Some hospitals across the country reported treating more children than ever this summer, which the CDC said reflected the rampant spread of the highly contagious Delta variant in much of the country.

In addition, scientists say children need to be vaccinated to achieve the communitywide, or herd, immunity that renders spread of the virus unlikely. “Vaccines give us the opportunity to really turn the tide on this pandemic, and children and teens really need to be a part of that strategy,” said Lisa Costello, a pediatrician and president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Will vaccination be required for school?

The CDC urged all school staff and eligible students to get vaccinated ahead of the school year. Some universities required students to get vaccinated to return to campus this fall, and school districts including New York City have required teachers and staff to get the shots. Most school districts in the country already require students to have received vaccinations for mumps, measles and rubella, as well as polio, diphtheria and chickenpox, though many districts grant exemptions to students with pre-existing health problems or religious beliefs conflicting with the mandate. “If you’re in a district that has a lot of vaccine requirements already, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Covid-19 vaccine just lumped in with those others,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate director of advocacy and governance for AASA, the School Superintendents Association, a national umbrella group that represents school districts. Some districts might require Covid-19 vaccinations just for a year or two, until the pandemic dies down, some other school experts say.

What are children’s Covid-19 symptoms?

The symptoms are pretty much the same for children as they are for adults, according to the CDC. The symptoms include fever or chills, cough, loss of sense of taste or smell, and headaches. Doctors have also been probing links between Covid-19 and a rare inflammatory condition that causes stomach pain, skin rashes and a high fever. One reason why doctors and public-health experts say they hope children will get vaccinated is research indicating they can carry and transmit the virus even if they don’t show any symptoms.

Does the vaccine pose any risks to children?

Any vaccine comes with the risk of an adverse reaction, and the Covid-19 shots are no different, doctors and vaccine experts say. So far, however, researchers haven’t found evidence the vaccines pose any additional or different risks to children versus adults. The most common side effects to the vaccine, according to the CDC, are flulike symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and chills. Many recipients also experience arm soreness or bruising after receiving the shot. In extremely rare cases, people who have received a Covid-19 vaccine have experienced severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis related to chemicals that help package the main ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, a compound known as mRNA. Studies also indicate there aren’t safety risks for pregnant mothers or their unborn children from the vaccines, and that expectant mothers can pass on immunity-boosting antibodies to their fetuses after getting the shots. “Some parents will be skittish about the [Pfizer] vaccine because it’s a new technology, but that just means there’s a lot more educating to be done on the topic,” said Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and virology expert at Baylor University. “The safety profile looks about the same for kids as it does for adults.”

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