Summary: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved vaccines for children as young as 6 months old, which are recommended by health bodies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The two COVID-19 vaccines approved for children and teens are 1) the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (3 doses) and 2) the Moderna vaccine (2 doses).
What our experts say
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC) has been reporting an increase in the hospitalizations and the severity of COVID-19 cases among children, especially the group aged 6 months to 4 years old.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved vaccines for children as young as 6 months old, and the CDC recommends the available and approved vaccines in order to protect children against hospitalization and severe COVID-19.
Two COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for use in children and teens:
- 3 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
- 2 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
This recommendation is for both children and teens who have not had COVID-19 and those who have had it already. Current evidence shows that vaccination after an infection provides an added level of immunity that is stronger than either the infection or the vaccine alone. Children who have had COVID-19 should get vaccinated after 3 months from the start of the symptoms of their COVID-19 infection, or 3 months from their first positive COVID-19 test if they were asymptomatic.
Vaccinated children can get protection against COVID-19 without the risks of complications from the disease. This is especially important because children who have other conditions like diabetes, asthma, or sickle-cell disease are more likely to get severe COVID-19 disease and can benefit significantly from being vaccinated. Current data suggests that out of every three children hospitalized with COVID-19, two have other conditions before getting the infection and one did not.
The CDC also recommends giving other vaccines that children are scheduled for with the COVID-19 vaccine, in order to prevent the delay of protection against other diseases.
Clinical trials show that vaccination is both safe and effective for children and teens. Researchers are continuing to monitor potential side-effects from the vaccines in children and teens and how the vaccines perform in the real world in order to guarantee the safety of the children.
Some mild and temporary side effects are common after vaccination, and include pain and redness at the site of the injection, fever, and headaches. These side effects are not serious, and are the same expected reactions after routine vaccination as well.
People of all age groups, including children and teens, cannot get COVID-19 from any of the available COVID-19 vaccines.
Context and background
Children have been considered throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to be much less likely to have severe cases than adults. However, concern for this group is increasing. Current CDC data shows that hospitalizations of young children – aged 6 months to 4 years – have been increasing and as of January 2022 have surpassed other age groups among children.
The cumulative incidence of hospitalizations among children under 5 years of age has also surpassed other age groups when looking at the time period from March 2020 to March 2022. This can possibly be explained by a rise of cases in January and February 2022 when this youngest population was ineligible for vaccines.
The severity of hospitalizations is also higher among children under 5 years of age, who have greater admissions to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and require breathing support more frequently than older children.
These trends coincide with the spread of the Omicron variant, and new variants, which is why the authors of the study measured vaccine efficacy against Omicron specifically.
Children and teens are also at risk of a complication of COVID-19 called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a condition that causes different organs of the body to be inflamed, including the lungs, heart, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. The COVID-19 vaccine can help protect against MIS-C. Data currently show that 95% of cases hospitalized with MIS-C in teens aged 12 to 18 are not vaccinated. Data also show that the COVID-19 vaccine protects teens aged 12 to 18 from MIS-C.
Additionally, COVID-19 continues to have a worse impact on Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic Black children, as data show they are more likely to develop MIS-C.
Furthermore, some children experience lasting symptoms after COVID-19 like fatigue, headaches, cough and trouble concentrating. These symptoms can limit their physical activity, affect their school performance, and cause them to miss opportunities to engage with their peers in school, sports and social settings.
Vaccination is also important because children can spread the virus to others even if they have no symptoms or mild symptoms, which puts their families and peers at risk, and can help the disease spread in the community. Vaccination can protect their contacts from this spread.
- COVID-19 epidemiology in children ages 6 months– 4 years (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
- COVID-NET Laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations (U.S.Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
- COVID Data Tracker (U.S.Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
- COVID-19 Vaccine Recommendations for Children and Teens (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Expands Eligibility for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Dose to Children 5 through 11 Years (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccines for Children Down to 6 Months of Age (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
Used with Permission from Health Desk, a public health hub that explains emerging COVID-19 science.