Young girl receiving a vaccine in her arm. Photo courtesy of Heather Hazzan for Self Magazine and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

None of the information provided is medical advice, and individuals should consult their providers with medical questions.

How old must a child be to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?

Anyone 5 years or older is eligible for vaccination under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

Teens 12 and older became eligible for vaccination in early summer. At the beginning of November 2021, children ages 5-11 became eligible for the shot. The FDA determined that “based on the totality of scientific evidence available, the known and potential benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in individuals down to 5 years of age outweigh the known and potential risks.”

Is the vaccine safe for children? 

“The vaccine’s safety was studied in approximately 3,100 children ages 5 through 11 who received the vaccine, and no serious side effects have been detected in the ongoing study,” according to the FDA. 

How many shots do children get and what is the timing?

Like adults and teens, children get two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, three weeks apart. 

Why do children and teens need a vaccine?

While most COVID-19 cases in children are mild, the delta variant created an increase in related hospitalizations of children, particularly in states with low adult vaccination rates.

The vaccine is an effective measure against COVID-19 for children, according to the FDA.

“Immune responses of children 5 through 11 years of age were comparable to those of individuals 16 through 25 years of age. In addition, the vaccine was found to be 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children 5 through 11,” according to an FDA report.

“Fortunately for us, our younger children have very robust or strong immune system so when we give them a vaccine, even better than adults, they are able to really mount that robust protection or immune response that we’re looking for,” NC Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Children and Families Dr. Charlene Wong said at a press conference.

How did approval happen?

Under federal law, the FDA may allow medical products that are not yet approved to be used in emergencies where there are “no adequate, approved and available alternatives.”

The FDA commissioners approved an emergency use authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11. The CDC then recommended vaccination for about 28 million children in that age category.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots are not yet approved for children. 

When will children under 5 years old be eligible for vaccination?

Clinical trials are underway for children under 5 years old. A FDA committee meets Feb. 15 to consider whether to recommend authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years-old. If authorized, the drugmaker could ship 10 million doses for the youngest recipients beginning as early as Feb. 21, according to CNN.

What are the possible side effects of the vaccine?

Possible side effects, according to the CDC, include pain, redness, swelling, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever or nausea. “These side effects may affect your child’s ability to do daily activities, but (the effects) should go away in a few days.”

The vaccine does not contain active virus, so there is no risk of anyone becoming infected with COVID-19 as a result of the vaccine.

Where can kids and teens get their shots? Are there mass vaccination sites for children? 

Shots are available at many pharmacies across the state. They are also available through individual health care providers and local health departments.

Unlike earlier rollouts, the vaccination process for children will not take place at mass vaccination sites.

For other vaccine locations, see the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ website or call the NC COVID-19 vaccine hotline (888-675-4567) for appointment information. 

How much does it cost? Does my child need insurance to get the vaccine? 

The vaccine is free and available without regard to insurance status. 

What is the dosage of the vaccine for children? 

The vaccines approved for children 5-11 is 10 micrograms, or one-third of the adult dosage. The shots are packaged differently from adult doses to avoid inadvertent administration of an adult dose to a child.

Editor’s note: This article was initially posted on Nov. 10, 2021 but has been updated several times, most recently on Feb. 10, 2022.

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Laura Lee is the former news editor at Carolina Public Press.