Children ages 12 to 15 are now able to be immunized against COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents under an emergency use authorization (EUA).
We talked to UNC Health pediatrician Edward M. Pickens, MD, about what parents/guardians need to know about the vaccine for this age group.
The vaccine is safe and effective.
Clinical trial data suggests that the vaccine is as or more effective for 12-to-15-year-olds than it is for adults. In the Pfizer clinical trial involving 2,260 people ages 12 to 15, it was very effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19.
That means none of the adolescents in the clinical trial who received the vaccine developed symptoms of a COVID-19 infection. Plus, the adolescents who got the vaccine produced much higher levels of antibodies on average, compared with participants 16 to 25 years of age in an earlier trial. Importantly, there were no serious side effects for any of the clinical trial participants.
“In general, children do much better than adults do with vaccines in mounting an immune response—developing protection against the infection that you’re immunizing against in the first place,” Dr. Pickens says. “For example, children also develop better immunity and have fewer side effects than adults with the flu vaccine.”
Muscle soreness and fever are the most common side effects.
Like adults, the most common side effects for adolescents are muscle soreness and fever.
“It means your immune system is responding to the vaccine,” Dr. Pickens says.
Teenagers sometimes faint when they get vaccines—this is not specific or unique to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“That’s true for any vaccine,” Dr. Pickens says. “When we give vaccines to preteens and teens, we have them stay there for a few minutes and not get up and not walk away because we want to make sure they don’t faint.”
Everyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine is monitored for at least 15 minutes after receiving a dose. Those have who have a history of severe allergic reactions will be monitored for 30 minutes. Let the person who is administering your child’s shot know if he or she has had a history of fainting with needles.
If your child has had a history of fainting with needles or a fear of shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends doing the following:
- Have a beverage or snack before getting your vaccine.
- Breathe slowly and deeply before getting the vaccine and think of something relaxing.
- Sit or lie down after you receive your vaccine.
Although multiple vaccines can be provided at the same time or within a short period, we encourage that you talk to your healthcare provider about whether it would better to space them out.
Severe allergic reactions to the vaccine are very rare.
Although there have been a few reports of severe reactions to the COVID-19 vaccines, most people—even those who have had severe allergic reactions in the past—are still able to get the vaccines.
“They absolutely can get it and should get it. For the vast majority of people out there who have multiple allergies, whether it’s multiple food allergies, multiple environmental allergies, this has been shown to be very safe,” Dr. Pickens says.
If your child has had a serious allergic reaction to a previous vaccine of any kind or is allergic to ingredients in the vaccine, talk to your child’s doctor before taking your child to get the vaccine.
Vaccination will likely prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the variants.
Although most children and teens typically don’t get as sick with COVID-19 as adults, that’s not the case for everyone.
“There certainly are some children and teenagers who get extremely sick,” Dr. Pickens says. And for children who do experience symptomatic infections, whether there are long-term effects is still unknown.
In addition, the goal of immunization is not only to prevent an infection for the individual, but to prevent further spread.
“We have to remember that every time you have a virus spread from one person to another, that raises the likelihood of having a mutation (or variant),” Dr. Pickens says. In hot spots across the country experiencing a lot of infections, “somebody was the first person to have a new variant and that happened because it spread from one person to another. We need to do all we can do to keep that from happening again, and the only way to do that is through vaccination.”
Reassuringly, clinical study and laboratory data indicate that the Pfizer vaccine is protective against the new variants that are now circulating.
Talk to your doctor if your child is immunocompromised.
If your child is on an immunosuppressive therapy (drugs that suppress the immune system) for an underlying immunocompromising medical condition (such as cancer or an organ transplant), talk to your child’s doctor about when to get the vaccine.
“There may be certain situations where a child’s medications or the child’s conditions might mean they won’t respond to the vaccine,” Dr. Pickens says. “It is important to have those discussions with your child’s physician. That doesn’t mean that they can’t get the vaccine, but we want to make sure the timing of the vaccine doses is such that the immunosuppressive medicine doesn’t keep the child from responding well to the vaccine.”
The vaccines do not affect fertility or cause infertility.
Some parents/guardians have read online that the vaccine can affect fertility, Dr. Pickens says.
“That is completely false,” Dr. Pickens says. “If you have questions about side effects or long-term manifestations of the vaccine, talk about them with your doctor because you don’t want social media to be your source of information. It really doesn’t take much for completely false information to make the rounds, and next thing you know, it’s perceived to be true.”