Experts discuss importance of COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5

By: - June 21, 2022 1:17 pm

Seven-year-old Milan Patel receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Michele Clark High School on November 12, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved COVID-19 vaccines for young children, ranging from 5 years to 6 months old. 

This new recommendation means nearly 20 million additional children in the United States are now eligible for the vaccine. According to the CDC, distribution of vaccines for this age group has already begun and will be available at thousands of locations this week. 

Dr. Rosey Olivero, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, and Mary Zimmerman, Spectrum Health’s immunization program specialist, answered questions on Tuesday about vaccine development, side effects and availability.

The three-dose Pfizer vaccine for children will be available for appointment at Spectrum Health’s primary care locations later today, Zimmerman said. Spectrum Health operates hospitals, urgent care centers, physician practices, and other healthcare facilities in West Michigan.

Spectrum will also offer the two-dose Moderna vaccine at its urgent care locations beginning next week, Zimmerman said.

Compared to the vaccines offered to adults, the Pfizer vaccine for children under 5 is a three-series dose, with each dose being one-tenth the amount of the adult dose, Olivero said. The second dose is given a minimum of three weeks after the first, and the third dose a minimum of eight weeks after the second dose. 

Dr. Rosey Olivero, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital | Photo courtesy of Spectrum Health

For Moderna, the two-dose series will have four weeks between doses. This vaccine uses a quarter of the adult dosage. 

According to the FDA, the Moderna vaccine was 50.6% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children 6 to 23 months old and 36.8% effective in children two to five years old.

FDA analyses also found that children who received the three-dose Pfizer vaccine experienced similar immune responses to older recipients.

In terms of recommendations about which vaccine children should receive, Olivero suggested families use whichever product is available at their healthcare provider or whatever is most convenient. 

“I think vaccination over no vaccination is by far and away superior than rolling the dice or relying on prior natural immunity,” Olivero said. “Both have a good safety profile from the data that was provided to the FDA. And my preference would be that you get vaccinated sooner rather than later.”

While children may face lower rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, it is currently the fifth leading cause of death for children younger than 5, Olivero said.

Rebecca Schein, a doctor of pediatric infectious diseases at Michigan State University, also noted in a statement that children are at risk for multisystem inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C, a severe immune response associated with COVID-19. However, the vaccine is 99% effective at preventing this response in older children, Schein said.

Young children receiving the vaccine can expect to see the same side effects as older recipients, with young study participants experiencing fever, fatigue and pain and tenderness where they received the injection, Olivero said. 

With vaccines now available for children aged 6 months to five years, some parents might have questions about vaccine boosters. While Olivero expects boosters will be studied and made available for this age group, she said the details are too early to be determined. 

Olivero also discussed the importance of reaching individuals skeptical of the vaccine by providing information about the vaccine and encouraging people to visit reliable sources of information including public health officials and their local family doctor or pediatrician. 

A pediatrician or family doctor can talk about the vaccine on a patient-centered level, so people can understand the risks and benefits and have that dialogue, Olivero said.


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Kyle Davidson
Kyle Davidson

Kyle Davidson was a reporting intern for the Michigan Advance. A recent MSU graduate, Kyle studied journalism and political science. He has reported on community events, breaking news, state policy, and the environment for outlets including the Lansing State Journal, the Detroit Free Press and Capital News Service.