A hand sticks gauze onto a kid's upper arm with a bandage.
Illustration: PGN

Leer en español

What you need to know

  • Kids under 5 can now get vaccinated with Pfizer’s or Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • Vaccines are critical to protecting kids from the worst outcomes of infection. 
  • There were no safety concerns for either pediatric vaccine, though the clinical trials were too small to assess the risk of myocarditis. 

Families have been eagerly waiting for COVID-19 vaccines to become available for their youngest kids. On Saturday, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for kids as young as 6 months old received the go-ahead from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, passing the final step of authorization. Now, kids under 5 are eligible to join the rest of the population in getting their COVID-19 vaccines.

Do young kids actually need the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines are especially important in protecting kids from the worst outcomes of COVID-19. Kids are less likely than adults to become seriously ill from COVID-19, but they can still experience complications from the virus. More than 30,000 kids under 5 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and nearly 500 have died. When it comes down to it, the benefits of getting kids vaccinated against COVID-19 outweigh the risks.

Where can kids under 5 get vaccinated?

Pediatricians’ offices and pharmacies are the main sites where young kids can get vaccinated. Parents can also bring their kids to hospitals, clinics, or community health centers that have pediatric COVID-19 vaccines in supply.

CVS announced that it will be administering the Pfizer vaccine for kids 18 months through four years of age at its MinuteClinic locations starting today. Walgreens will start vaccinating kids 3 and older at “select” locations, with appointments available online starting June 25.

How effective are the vaccines?

Pfizer’s three-shot pediatric vaccine appeared to be 80 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. Moderna’s two-shot pediatric vaccine was about 40 to 50 percent effective at preventing milder infections. The company is also testing an Omicron-specific booster shot for this age group.

It’s important to note that the efficacy data is not based on the new Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. Pfizer’s efficacy data is also relatively uncertain as it was based on just 10 total infections. Regardless, both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines produce antibodies that help defend against the worst outcomes of COVID-19.

Are the vaccines safe?

There were no safety concerns for either pediatric vaccine. The most common side effects for this age group included pain at the injection site, irritability, and sleepiness. 

Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for older kids and adults have been linked to rare cases of myocarditis—a type of heart inflammation. But the clinical trials for vaccines for kids under 5 did not document any such cases. The FDA does note that there was not enough data in these trials to assess the risk of myocarditis. 

Should we wait for an Omicron-specific vaccine?

Some experts believe that everyone will eventually need to receive updated COVID-19 vaccines that are designed to target specific variants. The FDA’s advisory committee is scheduled to meet on June 28 to discuss which strains should be included in COVID-19 boosters for the fall. It’s still unclear if and when an updated vaccine will be available, especially for kids under 5. Parents should use the tools at hand to protect their kids from the virus.