With the COVID-19 vaccine now available to children aged 12-17 and the end of the school year approaching, HealthCare Access Maryland took some time to discuss a few commonly asked vaccine questions with Dr. Kendra McDow, Baltimore City Health Department’s Chief Medical Officer. Read below to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 and older, the benefits, effectiveness, safe summertime activities, and how to keep children under the age of 12 safe from the spread of COVID-19.
Is the vaccine safe for kids to get? How effective is the vaccine for kids?
The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use in children 12 years old and up. In the coming months we expect the Moderna vaccine to be available for use in children 12 and up as well. The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control have determined the vaccine is safe and effective in individuals 12 years and up. 2,260 adolescents, ages 12 – 15 years old were enrolled in the clinical trial. Of the adolescents who received the vaccine there were zero cases of COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine provides 100% protection against COVID-19 disease in adolescents. Children under 12 years old are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.
Vaccine safety is extremely important and there are numerous vaccine safety monitoring systems in the United States. You have probably seen on the news that there have been rare, mild cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscles) and pericarditis (inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart) in adolescent and young adult males 2- 4 days after receiving the Pfizer vaccine. The adolescents and young men that developed myocarditis and pericarditis after vaccination all went home after being evaluated in the hospital for a couple of days. This rare event was picked up by our country’s vaccine safety monitoring systems. Usually, myocarditis or pericarditis can occur after a viral infection and have numerous other causes. There is no known link between the vaccine and myocarditis, and the number of cases of myocarditis after receipt of the Pfizer vaccine is not above what we would usually see in myocarditis from other causes.
School will be out in just a few weeks. Many families are making plans for summer vacation, camp, and childcare. What activities are safe for kids once they are vaccinated?
Once adolescents are fully vaccinated, they can do similar activities as vaccinated adults. Fully vaccinated means the adolescent has had 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. This means fully vaccinated adolescents can attend outdoor events with their family and friends, go to church or visit a museum. You can find out more information about what fully vaccinated people can do here: Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People | CDC.
In Baltimore City, fully vaccinated individuals can be outdoors without a mask. While indoors everyone must wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. Once we get to 65% of adults fully vaccinated in Baltimore City the indoor mask order will be lifted*. I still strongly encourage parents and caregivers to make sure their children that can wear a mask and are not yet able to get vaccinated continue to wear a mask indoors. It is important to note that summer camps, school and childcare settings may have their own policies around indoor masking and vaccination. Parents should ask about camp and summer childcare masking policies, staff vaccination policies and testing policies as well before enrolling their child in a camp or summer childcare.
*You can track our progress in reaching 65% of adults vaccinated on the health department data dashboard: Baltimore City Vaccine Dashboard | Coronavirus 2019 Disease(COVID-19).
Do kids need to be vaccinated when they haven’t been affected by the virus at the same rates as adults?
Yes – kids should get vaccinated. In the United States close to 4 million children have been infected with COVID-19, and recently we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 infections in children. Children and adolescents can get sick with COVID-19 disease and can spread the coronavirus to others. Most children have mild or no symptoms, however some children and adolescents can have severe disease resulting in hospitalization and even death. Children with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, obesity, diabetes, medical complexity, sickle cell disease, genetic conditions, heart disease from birth, suppressed immune systems may have increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
The Baltimore City Health Department along with the City’s pediatric doctors strongly encourage the vaccination of children and adolescents against COVID-19 disease. Vaccination of children and adolescents will protect our youth, their families and friends and our community. As the school year ends and summer approaches this is the best time for Baltimore City children and adolescents to get vaccinated – to ensure they are protected from COVID-19 as they take summer trips, enjoy time with family and friends, participate in summer camps and work summer jobs.
Do children experience the same side effects after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination?
Yes – adolescents may experience similar side effects as young adults after vaccination. Common side effects include pain at the injection site, fever, fatigue, muscle and joint aches. Side effects usually lasted 48 hours. Pfizer vaccine requires 2 doses – 21 days apart. Adolescents may experience side effects after both doses, with more side effects after the second dose. The Pfizer vaccine for adolescents is made of the same ingredients as the Pfizer vaccine for adults.
What is recommended at this time to keep children under the age of 12 safe from the spread of COVID-19?
The best thing we can do as a community to keep children under 12 years old safe from the spread of COVID-19 is for adults and adolescents to get vaccinated! We know that vaccination reduces the chances of the virus that causes COVID-19 from spreading from one person to the next. The more people that are vaccinated, the less spread we will have.
It is also important to continue to get tested for COVID-19 if you or your child has symptoms. During the Spring and Summer months, COVID-19 symptoms may look like seasonal allergies. We should all remain vigilant and continue to get tested. Testing is even more important now, in order for us to keep our case numbers low. Through testing we are able to quickly identify who has COVID-19 and have them isolate away from others to prevent the spread of the disease.
You can find a list of COVID-19 symptoms here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html-
Is there anything else that is important for parents to know?
We want our kids to have a fun and healthy summer. The vaccine will protect our young people from COVID-19 as they take summer trips, enjoy time with friends and family, go to summer camp, and work summer jobs. You can find a vaccination site in your community here: Weekly Schedule of Vaccination Clinics | Coronavirus 2019 Disease(COVID-19) (baltimorecity.gov). If you need help with transportation, call 410-372-3444 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for free transportation to and from your vaccination appointment.