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The COVID Vaccine for Kids Ages 5-11: A Q&A with Debbie-Ann Shirley, MD

Covid-19 vaccine and kids

Kids ages 5-11 can now get a COVID-19 vaccine. On Nov. 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that all kids in this age group receive the low-dose Pfizer vaccine. Although young children are less likely to experience serious illness from COVID infection, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel determined that the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. 

We asked pediatrician and infectious disease specialist Debbie-Ann Shirley, MD, to respond to some of the most common questions parents have about the new vaccine.

FAQ: Kids and the COVID Vaccine

How is this vaccine different from the one for adults and kids 12-17?

This is a new pediatric formulation of the Pfizer vaccine. The dose is 10 micrograms, or one-third of the adult dose. Younger kids, like adults and adolescents, will need two shots 21 days apart in order to be fully vaccinated. 

This vaccine is made specifically for kids ages 5-11. They can’t just receive a smaller dose of the adult formulation. 

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. Like all COVID vaccines, this pediatric formulation had to go through rigorous testing and meet high safety standards for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize use. A clinical trial included more than 4,600 kids ages 5-11. A little over 3,000 of these kids received the low-dose vaccine, while the rest received a placebo. 

The trial showed that the vaccine was well-tolerated and effective, with only mild to moderate side effects — arm soreness, fatigue, muscle aches, low fever — that resolved quickly. 

Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions about vaccine safety. 

Why should I vaccinate my child if they’re healthy?

It’s true that, compared to adults, kids diagnosed with COVID-19 are more likely to have mild symptoms that resolve on their own. But some children do get serious illness. 

There have been around 6.4 million kids diagnosed with COVID. 8,300 kids between the ages of 5-11 have been hospitalized with the virus since the pandemic began. Over 500 have died from the disease; nearly 100 of these kids were ages 5-11. This puts COVID among the top 10 causes of mortality for kids in the U.S. 

Many of those who experienced severe disease had underlying risk factors, such as obesity, asthma or respiratory disease, a compromised immune system or metabolic disorder. But one-third of the kids who became severely ill from COVID did not. 

A Rare But Deadly COVID Complication

One rare complication of COVID, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children or MIS-C, occurs more often in kids ages 5-11. It tends to appear 2-6 weeks after infection. It causes high fever and inflammation of multiple organs, including the heart. Many children with MIS-C need to be cared for in an intensive care unit, and 1-2% of kids with MIS-C have died. 

There’s a lot of unpredictability with this virus. Being healthy does not guarantee your child will only have mild symptoms.

It’s also important to consider the impact vaccination has on our community. The more people who are vaccinated, the more protected we all are against the spread of COVID-19 today and variants that may appear in the future.

Does a child’s weight or size influence which COVID vaccine they should receive?

Like other childhood vaccines, this vaccine is administered by age, not weight. So even if you have a small 5-year-old or a larger 11-year-old, the low-dose Pfizer vaccine is the best option. Children in this age group developed strong immune responses with this dose, similar to the antibody responses seen with the higher dose given to older age groups. And they tolerated the vaccine well at this dose. 

My child is terrified of needles; are there other options?

Currently, providers can only offer the COVID vaccine through injection. However, the needles for the pediatric dose are smaller and tailored just for kids. Read these tips from the CDC on how to prepare your child for the shot.

Our team at UVA can also help and will do their best to meet your child’s specific needs. Just let us know when you arrive that your child is afraid of needles.

Get Your Child Vaccinated

We’re now offering the COVID vaccine to kids ages 5-11. 

When and where can my child get the COVID vaccine?

The vaccine is currently being rolled out across the country, with initial doses expected to be ready to administer at UVA starting Monday, Nov. 8 You can make an appointment at the UVA Pediatric Community Vaccination Center, which is in the Battle Building. To make an appointment:

As more doses become available, there will be additional options for vaccination. You can get the latest updates at UVAHealth.com.

The Blue Ridge Health District will also be offering the vaccine at a variety of locations around Charlottesville. These include:

Appointments are required. Schedule online through the Virginia Department of Health. Note that a parent or guardian must be present with all children under the age of 18 during their vaccination.

Not in central Virginia? Find a vaccination site near you.

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