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Doctors—and moms—answer your questions about the COVID vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds

By Blue Cross NC | October 29, 2021 | Healthy Lifestyle, Coronavirus

Young girl in school hallway, wearing a mask and a backpack, smiles at the camera while other students run up behind her

Over the past year, hundreds of millions of people 12 and older have been safely vaccinated against COVID-19. Now we’ve reached another long-awaited pandemic milestone: the approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.

This is huge news for parents of young kids, especially as we navigate the return to in-person learning and activities. In recent months, the CDC has shown an uptick in the number of kids getting COVID-19.1

The vaccine offers many parents hope and peace of mind. It is safe and effective in this age group.2

If you have questions about the vaccine, our physicians (who are also moms of young kids) are here to help.

Are there any risks?

The main risk of vaccination is mild side effects.

Dr. Kristi Edwards, who was a pediatrician for 13 years before joining Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, plans to get her 9-year-old son vaccinated as soon as possible. She expects that he may experience soreness, tiredness, and other signs that the vaccine is working.

“There are risks with any vaccine, the most common of which are mild side effects as the vaccine does its job,” she said. “Any risk of severe side effects is greatly outweighed by the risk of having COVID.”

Possible side effects of the Pfizer vaccine are similar in children and adults. They include:3

  • Pain, redness, and swelling in the arm where you got the shot
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever

These side effects are normal and should go away within a few days.

According to the CDC, the known risks of COVID-19 illness and its complications, such as long-term health problems, far outweigh the potential risks of having a rare adverse reaction to vaccination.4

Dr. Anuradha Rao-Patel, whose 16-year-old son is already vaccinated and whose youngest she will vaccinate “without any hesitation,” said she’s confident in the vaccine’s safety profile.

“The FDA and the CDC take vaccine safety precautions very seriously,” she said. “They monitor the vaccines carefully for any signs of safety issues. I would encourage parents to talk with their child’s doctor to discuss individual risks and benefits.”

If your child has had an allergic reaction to any of the vaccine’s ingredients in the past, or if you have any other concerns, talk to your child’s doctor.

Is your child afraid of needles? Read: Five tips to cope with needle phobia

Is it necessary to get my kids vaccinated?

Some parents wonder if their kids need the vaccine, since hospitalization and death are less common in kids than adults. But every day, hundreds of kids are hospitalized with COVID.5 While rare, some children can develop severe lung infections or other serious complications.6

“The risk of getting struck by lightning is low, but I am not going to stand out in a thunderstorm holding a metal rod,” Dr. Edwards said. “Vaccination is a protective step that we can take as parents, like car seats and bike helmets. It will put me at ease to know that my son has some additional protection.”

Since the delta variant came on the scene, hospitalization rates among unvaccinated adolescents have been 10 times higher than among fully vaccinated adolescents.7

“Kids get COVID-19 and kids die from COVID-19,” said Dr. Nora Dennis, an MD and psychiatrist who has three kids under 12. “These vaccines are very good at preventing hospitalization and death. The main benefit is knowing that my children won’t die from COVID-19. I wish I could give the same certainty to mothers around the world who won’t have the privilege of access to the vaccine so early. We are so incredibly fortunate to have access to vaccines to protect our children.”

Plus, vaccinated kids help protect everyone. This includes any friends, family members and teachers your child interacts with. Early research shows that vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus than unvaccinated people.8

To reach herd immunity and control the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Rao-Patel said, almost all of the population—including children—needs to be immunized against the virus.

“Getting vaccinated is a way for children to actively protect themselves and their loved ones, as well as support their community,” she said.

The risk of getting struck by lightning is low, but I am not going to stand out in a thunderstorm holding a metal rod. Vaccination is a protective step that we can take as parents, like car seats and bike helmets.

Dr. Kristi Edwards

What are the benefits?

In addition to peace of mind for parents, vaccination provides kids with a much-needed sense of normalcy. We’ve written before about the severe impact of COVID-19 on kids’ mental health. Vaccination can help some kids feel safe again. It can also help restore social connections.

“Vaccination gets our kids back to the programs, activities and social interactions they desperately need,” Dr. Rao-Patel said. “It’s important for appropriate academic, social-emotional and physical development.”

For Dr. Dennis’s kids, that means seeing their 97-year-old great grandmother for the first time since the pandemic began. For others, it might be feeling safe at soccer practice, in the school hallways, or at ballet.

“The beauty of vaccination is that it doesn’t just benefit you,” Dr. Dennis said. “Vaccination benefits everyone you come in contact with. It decreases the risk of infection, and if you do get infected, it decreases the chance that you will transmit the virus to other people. Getting vaccinated is a way for us to take care of one another.”