4 facts about the COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged 5 to 11

Much to the relief of parents and caregivers across Nova Scotia, children aged 5 to 11 can now receive a vaccine to protect them against COVID-19. First doses of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine began going into youngsters’ arms on Dec. 1.

It protects kids and those around them
“We have great evidence that the vaccines protect children against COVID-19 infection, with over 90% efficacy in the clinical trials done in this age group,” says Dr. Joanne Langley, co-chair of the Canadian COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force and head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at IWK Health.

As well as protecting the children themselves, the vaccine also protects those around them, she says, including other family members and schoolmates since it reduces the risk of symptomatic infection. There are about 65,000 children in this age group in Nova Scotia. The more of them that are fully vaccinated, the more we can decrease outbreaks and transmission of the virus.

Children are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their second dose. They can get their second dose eight weeks after their first.

It’s safe and effective for children
Dr. Langley assures parents that rigorous testing and approval processes were done for this age group, just as they were for older kids and adults. Side effects such as myocarditis are extremely rare, and are far less risky than the effects of getting COVID-19.

The dose for kids aged 5 to 11 is a third of the dose that adults and youth over 12 receive. Clinical trials showed that children didn’t need as much vaccine to get an immune response.

“A lower dose works just as well in children as the higher dose in adults,” Dr. Langley says.

It should be a top priority for children
While it’s important for children to get an annual flu shot and stay up to date with routine immunizations, it’s more important for them to get the COVID-19 vaccine first.

“The pandemic is here now, and we have a vaccine against it,” says Dr. Langley. “Get that now and then get the other childhood vaccines.”

Children should wait two weeks after the COVID-19 shot to get another vaccine. This way, if they experience a reaction of any kind, it’s clear which vaccine may have been associated with it.

It doesn’t have to hurt or be scary
There are many ways to help make a child’s vaccine experience a safe and positive one.

  • An hour before, apply topical anesthetic to numb the injection site
  • Use distraction tools, such as letting them hold a beloved toy or reading them a favourite story, to help the child remain calm during the appointment
  • Praise and reward a child after they get the vaccine

Most important of all is for parents and caregivers to have a calm, positive attitude before, during and after the appointment, says Dr. Langley.

For more strategies to support kids, check out resources from trusted organizations, such as the IWK Health Centre’s COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit, the Canadian Pediatric Society’s Caring For Kids COVID-19 Vaccine for Children and Youth webpage, and the Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP) Needle Pain and Anxiety Management for Vaccines resource sheet.

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