The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone ages 5 and older receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Johns Hopkins Medicine also encourages all families that are eligible to get the appropriate COVID-19 vaccine. So, what do you need to know now that it’s available to those 5 and up? On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Allison Messina, M.D., chief of the Division of Infectious Disease and medical director of Infection Prevention at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, explains what families should know about the COVID-19 vaccine and other recent updates about the virus.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for children and should I get my child vaccinated?
Both the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reviewed studies and found the vaccine is safe and effective in kids 5 and up, so if your child is in this age group, they should get vaccinated. The risks and benefits of this vaccine have been studied in these age groups and research has shown that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of catching this potentially very serious disease. Vaccinating children may further help us safely return to a sense of normalcy for school and other activities and can help us move toward herd immunity and reduce the likelihood of variants developing.
My child already had COVID-19. Should they still get vaccinated?
Yes. Immunity after natural infection tends to decrease after 90 days and you can still be at risk for contracting the virus again. So, the COVID-19 vaccine provides additional immunity to fight off the virus if you get infected again.
Is it safe for my child to get the COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot or other vaccines at the same time?
Yes, it is safe for children to get both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time to protect them from both of these serious respiratory illnesses. If part of your child’s immunization schedule, your pediatrician may also suggest other vaccines your child should receive at the same time.
What are the differences between the vaccine for kids 12 and up, and kids 5 to 11?
The vaccine for children ages 5-11 is one third of the dose used to vaccinate individuals 12 and older. The needle used to deliver the vaccine is also smaller for smaller arms.
Are there any side effects children experience after receiving the vaccine?
Similar to adults, children may have some side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, such as minor pain or swelling at the injection site. Fever, muscle aches, chills, fatigue, headaches or a combination of these symptoms can also occur. These may only last a day or two and are a sign your immune system is working. If your child experiences any other side effects or symptoms persist longer, contact their pediatrician.
We hear a lot about severe COVID 19 in adults. How sick is this disease making children?
COVID-19 is thankfully less severe in children on the whole, but it is not an insignificant disease. As of November 2021, it has caused around 8,300 hospitalizations of U.S. kids ages 5-11 this year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In fact, in the months of August and September of this year it was the sixth leading cause of death in children ages 5-14 and the fourth leading cause of death among young people ages 15-24 years, according to Kaiser Permanente.
COVID-19 can cause the same types of serious illness in kids as in adults. For example, older children (teenagers) often experience severe respiratory symptoms. They can have high fevers, cough, and such difficulty breathing that they sometimes end up on ventilators. This virus can also cause problems with blood clotting, neurological problems like strokes — and can cause severe heart dysfunction as well. Severe COVID-19 affects all organ systems. While there are certain risk factors that can make kids more likely to have severe disease, many of the children with illness like this were previously completely healthy. With COVID-19 in younger kids, we have seen MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory disorder in children — which is a rare, but serious, complication of the virus that happens a few weeks after the initial infection. This illness can also cause serious problems, particularly it seems to commonly attack the heart.
Is it safe to attend holiday gatherings this year?
The holiday season always brings with it risks for contagious infections. This is because people travel from all over to gather with friends and loved ones in large (largely indoor!) groups. You can protect your family by ensuring that everyone who is eligible is vaccinated for COVID-19 … and flu. Don’t forget your flu vaccine! Children 6 months and older can and should get their flu shot. Also, it is still significantly safer to gather outside than inside when possible, and remember in places where there is still significant spread of COVID-19, it is advisable for those over 2 to still wear masks when gathering in large indoor groups.
For more information, visit our COVID-19 resource center.
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital offers pediatric COVID-19 vaccination appointments for existing patients, ages 5-17, in our general pediatrics clinics in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, as well as some inpatients. These appointments will be limited and must be scheduled in advance. Learn more.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. You also can download our free Pocket Doc app, which features a symptom checker, parenting advice and other tools for staying in touch with us.