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What you need to know
- Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are expected to decrease the risk of severe illness and hospitalization among kids under 5.
- The most common side effects of these vaccines were pain at the injection site, irritability, and sleepiness.
- Getting vaccinated helps to strengthen the body’s immune response, even for kids who have already recovered from COVID-19 infection.
Kids under 5 can finally get vaccinated against COVID-19. The clinical trials of both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s pediatric vaccines show that they are safe and effective, leading regulatory agencies to issue the green light for vaccinating the youngest Americans.
But only one in five parents of children under 5 say they will vaccinate their kid right away, while two in five say they will wait and see. The remaining 38 percent of parents say they will either definitely not get their kid vaccinated or only do so if required. Below, we address some of the big questions parents may have around pediatric COVID-19 vaccines.
How are Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for kids different?
Pfizer’s vaccine series for kids under 5 consists of three 3-microgram doses. The first two doses should be spaced three weeks apart followed by a third at least two months later. The vaccine is most effective seven days after the completion of the series, meaning that it will take kids at least three months to gain maximum protection from the virus.
Moderna’s vaccine series is for kids under 6 and consists of two 25-microgram doses spaced four weeks apart. The vaccine is most effective two weeks after the completion of the series, so the entire process takes at least a month and a half. Moderna is currently testing an Omicron-specific booster shot for this age group.
There are also differences in efficacy based on clinical trial data: Pfizer’s vaccine was 75 to 82 percent effective against infection while Moderna’s was 37 to 51 percent effective. But since trial participants were exposed to different variants and administered different numbers of doses, the trial data are not directly comparable. More importantly, both vaccines are expected to decrease the risk of severe illness and hospitalization among young kids.
What is the risk of side effects, including myocarditis?
The most common side effects for this age group included pain at the injection site, irritability, and sleepiness. Serious adverse events were rare: There was one child in each trial with a high fever that led to seizure or hospitalization. No deaths occurred.
Myocarditis—a type of heart inflammation that has been linked to mRNA vaccines in adolescents—did not appear in the clinical trials for these younger kids. But the trials were not large enough to capture such rare events (Pfizer’s trial included 1,400 children, while Moderna’s included 6,300).
What about long-term side effects like infertility?
We can never be completely certain that side effects will not arise in the future. However, based on existing evidence and what we know about how vaccines work, it’s highly unlikely that long-term side effects like infertility will be an issue. It’s also worth noting that the pediatric vaccines are just smaller doses of the vaccines for older children and adults, which have been administered for a year and a half now with no signs of long-term side effects.
Should kids get vaccinated if they were previously infected with COVID-19?
Yes. As the virus continues to mutate, reinfection cases could become more common, a phenomenon that we are already seeing with the Omicron variant. Getting vaccinated helps to strengthen the body’s immune response, even for kids who have already recovered from COVID-19 infection.
Do the benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks for kids under 5?
Independent scientists and regulatory agencies are in agreement that the benefits currently outweigh the risks when it comes to getting kids under 5 vaccinated against COVID-19. It is rare for children to become seriously ill from COVID-19, but more than 30,000 kids under 5 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, and nearly 500 have died.
Besides protecting them from potentially severe outcomes, vaccination allows children to attend daycare, camp, and preschool safely. Vaccinated kids are also less likely to spread the virus to community members who may be more vulnerable to serious illness, such as grandparents or immunocompromised individuals. Getting kids vaccinated is a crucial part of ending the pandemic.