covid vaccine children

COVID Vaccines for Kids Under 5: Where You Can Get Them, Side Effects, Dosage and More

Both Pfizer and Moderna use the same technology but there are differences

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COVID-19 shots for U.S. infants, toddlers and preschoolers are set to begin this week, but when and where can you get them and what do parents need to know?

Parents have been pressing federal officials for months for the opportunity to protect their smallest children as more adults shed masks and abandon other public health precautions.

Here's what we know so far.

Which vaccines are now authorized for children under 5 and who is eligible?

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized shots from both Moderna and Pfizer. That means U.S. kids under 5 — roughly 18 million youngsters — are eligible for the shots, about 1 1/2 years after the vaccines first became available in the U.S. for adults, who have been hit the hardest during the pandemic.

The vaccines are for children as young as 6 months.

While the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines, it’s the CDC that decides who should get them.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccines for the littlest children over the weekend, and the final signoff came hours later from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency's director.

Moderna next plans to study its shots for babies as young as 3-months-old. Pfizer has not finalized plans for shots in younger infants. A dozen countries, including China, already vaccinate kids under 5.

When can shots begin?

The shots will become available this week.

The government has already been gearing up for the vaccine expansion, with millions of doses ordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics around the country.

Where can you get them?

Health officials in Illinois and Chicago urged parents to check this site to find vaccination locations near them.

In a statement Saturday, Walgreens said it will begin administering vaccines to children 3 years and older at select locations nationwide. The Illinois-based pharmacy chain urged parents to schedule appointments as shipments are expect to arrive at select pharmacies this week.

Appointments begin on June 25, though some locations may start sooner. They can be scheduled here, through the Walgreens app or by calling (800)-Walgreens.

“Walgreens pharmacists have significant experience vaccinating younger populations and can help to ease concerns, answer questions and ensure parents feel informed and children feel comfortable during an appointment,” Dr. Kevin Ban, M.D., chief medical officer at Walgreens, said in a statement.

Chicago health officials also revealed the following options for parents:

  • CDPH will partner with three Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) Blue Door Neighborhood Center sites in the coming months to host family vaccination clinics for anyone 6 months and up. Pfizer and Moderna will be offered. Reservations are recommended but walk-ins are also accepted. Visit the links below to view the schedule for each location and register.
    • Morgan Park – 11840 S. Marshfield 
      • June 28, July 14, July 23, July 26, August 11, August 20, September 8, October 6
    • Pullman – 756 E. 111th St.
      • June 30, July 13, July 16, July 28, August 4, August 10, August 13, September 1
    • South Lawndale – 2551 W. Cermak
      • July 1, July 29, August 3, August 27, August 31, September 6, September 24, October 4
  • CDPH will host family vaccination clinics at City Colleges of Chicago. These events will offer Pfizer and Moderna for children 6 months through 4 years old, as well as Pfizer vaccines and booster doses to all Chicagoans. All clinics will be open 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Registration is recommended and is available at the links below. Walk-ins will be accommodated as space allows.
  • Family vaccination clinics at Arturo Velasquez Institute in partnership with Alivio Medical Center five days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays) at 2800 S. Western Ave. Walk-ins welcome. Register online or by phone at 773-254-1400.
  • Starting Saturday, June 25, CDPH’s in-home vaccination program, Protect Chicago At Home, will expand to offer Pfizer vaccine for anyone 6 months or older. Up to 10 people can be vaccinated at a time, offering a great opportunity for the entire family to get up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations. Make an at-home appointment at Chicago.gov/AtHome or by calling 312-746-4835.
  • Standing CDPH immunization clinics will also offer Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for anyone 6 months and up by appointment only. This includes: 
    • Uptown WIC, 845 W. Wilson Ave., 2nd Level (call 312-742-3227 for an appointment)
    • Greater Lawn WIC, 4150 W. 55th St. (call 312-745-1477 for an appointment)
  • CPS’ regional vaccination clinics and mobile vaccination events will resume in early July when CPS schools open for summer programming and will offer the vaccine for children under five. Some of CPS' School Based Health centers will also be offering vaccines to children under five. Information on specific opportunities will be available in the coming weeks and will be announced by CPS. Check cps.edu/vaccinations for more information and vaccine opportunities for CPS families. If a CPS family needs assistance with locating a Medical Home, they may also call the Healthy CPS Hotline at 773-553-KIDS (5437) for assistance.
  • Starting next week, some CDPH-sponsored community events will offer pediatric vaccinations for children under 5. For the calendar of community events, visit Chicago.gov/VaxCalendar.
  • Select children’s hospitals will host pediatric vaccine events – check hospital websites for dates and more information.
  • Residents can also call the City’s COVID-19 call center at 312-746-4835. 

Parents must accompany children getting their vaccine. 

Will children be given the same size dose as adults?

The two brands use the same technology but there are differences.

Pfizer’s vaccine is for 6 months through 4 years. The dose is one-tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given three weeks apart, and the last at least two months later.

Moderna’s is two shots, each a quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart for kids 6 months through 5. The FDA also approved a third dose, at least a month after the second shot, for kids with immune conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness.

What about side effects?

Studies from Moderna and Pfizer showed side effects, including fever and fatigue, were mostly minor.

Heart inflammation sometimes occurs in teens and young adults, mostly males, after receiving either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

But the CDC recently found the risk of myocarditis and other inflammatory syndromes was higher following infection from COVID than after Pfizer or Moderna vaccination in males and females ages 5 and older.

Moderna previously said that, armed with additional evidence, it was updating its FDA application for teen shots and requesting a green light for 6- to 11-year-olds, too. Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, said he’s optimistic the company will be able to offer its vaccine “across all age groups in the United States by the summer.”

Moderna says its original adult dose — two 100-microgram shots — is safe and effective in 12- to 17-year-olds. For elementary school-age kids, it’s using half the adult dose.

About 1.5 million adolescents have used the Moderna vaccine in other countries, “and so far we've seen very reassuring safety from that experience," Hoge said.

The heart risk also seems linked to puberty, and regulators in Canada, Europe and elsewhere recently expanded Moderna vaccinations to kids as young as 6.

“That concern has not been seen in the younger children,” said Dr. Bill Muller, an associate professor of pediatrics at Lurie.

How effective are the vaccines in children?

In a study of kids ages 6 months through 5 years, two Moderna shots — each a quarter of the regular dose — triggered high levels of virus-fighting antibodies, the same amount proven to protect young adults, the company said. There were no serious side effects, and the shots triggered fewer fevers than other routine vaccinations.

But the vaccine proved between about 40% and 50% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 during the trial. The company blamed the omicron variant's ability to partially evade vaccine immunity, noting that unboosted adults showed similarly less effectiveness against milder omicron infections. While no children became severely ill during the study, Moderna noted high antibody levels are a proxy for protection against more serious illness — and the company will test a child booster dose.

COVID-19 vaccines aren't as effective against the super-contagious omicron mutant — in people of any age — and Moderna's study found the same trend.

At the same time, preliminary data suggested Pfizer and its partner BioNTech's three-dose series is 80% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, the companies said, but they cautioned the calculation is based on just 10 cases diagnosed among study participants by the end of April. The study rules state that at least 21 cases are needed to formally determine effectiveness, and Pfizer promised an update as soon as more data is available.

“The study suggests that a low, 3-microgram dose of our vaccine, carefully selected based on tolerability data, provides young children with a high level of protection against the recent COVID-19 strains,” he said in a statement.

Federal health officials said Sunday that kid-sized doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines appear to be safe and effective for kids under 5. Late last week the FDA posted a similar analysis of Moderna’s shots for children under 6.

The FDA said children who received Pfizer’s shots during testing developed high levels of virus-fighting antibodies expected to protect them against coronavirus. That’s the basic threshold needed to win FDA authorization. But additional testing turned up key differences, with stronger results for Pfizer.

Which one should my child get?

Either one, says Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA's vaccine chief.

“Whatever vaccine your health care provider, pediatrician has, that’s what I would give my child,’’ Marks said Friday.

The doses haven't been tested against each other, so experts say there’s no way to tell if one is better.

One consideration: It takes roughly three months to complete the Pfizer three-shot series, but just one month for Moderna's two shots. So families eager to get children protected quickly might want Moderna.

Why do health officials want to get children vaccinated?

While young children generally don’t get as sick from COVID-19 as older kids and adults, their hospitalizations surged during the omicron wave and FDA’s advisers determined that benefits from vaccination outweighed the minimal risks.

Walensky said pediatric deaths from COVID-19 have been higher than what is generally seen from the flu each year.

“So I actually think we need to protect young children, as well as protect everyone with the vaccine and especially protect elders,” she said.

What if my child recently had COVID-19?

About three-quarters of children of all ages are estimated to have been infected at some point. For older ages, the CDC has recommended vaccination anyway to lower the chances of reinfection.

Experts have noted re-infections among previously infected people and say the highest levels of protection occur in those who were both vaccinated and previously infected.

The CDC has said people may consider waiting about three months after an infection to be vaccinated.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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