Just as the holiday season is about the begin, the FDA has approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization in children ages 5 to 11. The following Saturday, Walgreens began offering vaccination appointments for children at thousands of stores nationwide. In a monumental step for science—and parents everywhere—a large portion of families are now eligible to be vaccinated.

With the recent announcement coming at the same time winter is beginning to nudge people indoors, parents may be eager to schedule their child’s appointment. They may also be in search of more information before making a decision. To answer the most-searched questions by parents regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccine is Walgreens’ chief medical officer, Dr. Kevin Ban, who, as a father himself, is especially equipped to share his insights and advice.

Which COVID-19 vaccines are approved for children?

Dr. Kevin Ban: The FDA authorized Pfizer’s BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in children. It is a pediatric-specific formulation and dosage compared to the one adults and adolescents receive. Similar to the adult recommendation, children are recommended to get their second dose at least three weeks after the first. The FDA is still reviewing data for the Moderna vaccine in children and adolescents, and Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine is still in the clinical trial phase.

Why should I get my children vaccinated?

Dr. Kevin Ban: Something people might not realize is that children made up a quarter of new infections in the U.S. as recently as the end of October. They may not get as seriously ill, but those are still many cases of unvaccinated individuals who can spread the virus to their loved ones. With the holidays coming up, I can’t think of a better time to get your children vaccinated. Pfizer’s vaccine was found to be 90% effective in this age group based on their clinical trials, which is remarkable and very promising in terms of keeping kids from getting severely ill. The impact of COVID-19 extends deeply in children, to their social and emotional well-being. If your kids are going to in-person classes, this should bring you a level of comfort that they can socialize and be way less likely to bring any kind of virus home with them.

A boy age 5-11 with mask after vaccineAre there limitations to which children can get vaccinated?

Dr. Kevin Ban: The FDA considers the vaccine safe for all children, including those who are immunocompromised. This comes after following the most comprehensive and intense safety monitoring program in U.S. history. Think about it—these scientists have their own children to think about when testing these vaccines. Even though the risk of severe illness and death is low for children, this will keep them and families even safer, and get our world back on track.

What are the side effects like in children?

Dr. Kevin Ban: Very minimal. In fact, research shows that children ages 5 to 11 experienced less severe side effects than adults and adolescents. Your children may very well experience no side effects at all, or at most, a minimal effect like soreness at the injection site. Less commonly, kids may experience fatigue, headache, muscle pain or some mild flu-like symptoms that should clear up in a few days. If they do, it would be more likely to happen after the second dose. Select Walgreens are offering COVID-19 vaccine appointments on Saturdays if you’re concerned about any recovery time.

Have any children had severe adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine?

Dr. Kevin Ban: Very rarely, but yes. And very few adults in general have had a severe adverse reaction. To give you an idea, nearly 450 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to Americans, and the amount of people who have had a severe adverse reaction is less than 1%. Nearly 9 million vaccines have been given to adolescents age 12-17, and of these, less than 1% reported symptoms of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart). Anaphylaxis, or an allergic reaction, is possible with any vaccine, but particularly in those who have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines. Walgreens pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are trained to spot and respond when this occurs, which is why we ask patients to wait 15 minutes after the vaccination before leaving. There are specific protocols in place to handle any potential reactions. What’s important to focus on is that the FDA takes their approval process very seriously and would not have approved the vaccine if the probability of having a severe reaction was anything but exceedingly rare.

How can I reassure my child if they are afraid of shots or needles?

Dr. Kevin Ban: Great question. I was so excited to see the approval come through that I nearly forgot about how kids can shy away from needles. My kids are teenagers, and when the vaccine was approved for kids between 12 and 18, we went together to our local Walgreens. I’m happy to report that they had no reactions and are feeling great. If they were a little younger and more skittish, I would start by telling them the facts: It will pinch, but it will be over in a second. That by getting the vaccine, they will keep themselves from getting sick, and keep their classmates, buddies and family members safe. It’s almost like getting a superpower in that way. It also helps to distract younger kids during the vaccination itself. Point to different things around the room, bring a book or toy, or keep them focused on you while you engage them in conversation. I’ve also heard that there might be sweet little rewards at your local Walgreens to celebrate making this brave decision. 

I am still nervous about getting my child vaccinated against COVID-19.

Dr. Kevin Ban: I understand. It might have been easy for you to make a decision like this for yourself, but it’s your child. It’s amazing when you think about all of the new vaccines that have been developed in recent years—chicken pox, for example—and it might seem like the COVID-19 vaccines were developed quickly in comparison. But this was a global effort. By teaming scientists together from around the world and working with the most advanced technologies and highest medical standards we’ve ever had, we can say that the COVID-19 vaccine has been rolled out under the safest means possible.

I've chatted with kids and teenagers who felt relieved when they got their vaccine and feel better interacting with their friends, which is vitally important to their development. It's also the next step we can collectively take to end this pandemic. All this being said, I encourage you to speak with your Walgreens pharmacist or pediatrician if you have any lingering concerns. Our team is here to help you keep your family healthy and safe.
 

Vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds are available at select Walgreens locations, so parents or guardians are highly encouraged to make appointments for this age group to ensure the best experience. Appointments can be scheduled through Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine, the Walgreens app or by calling 1-800-Walgreens.