Children and the COVID-19 Vaccine

Children and the COVID-19 Vaccine

On Monday, May 10, 2021, the FDA granted emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15. Following this approval, on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, the CDC also recommended vaccination to this age group. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a public statement outlining its support for vaccination in this age group and encouraging the population to vaccinate their children.

Dr. Mariana Lanata, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Marshall Health, shares the answers to parents’ frequently asked questions about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19. At Marshall Health, our faculty physicians are committed to staying up-to-date on the latest research and guidance on the vaccine and how this impact the decisions you make for your family.

Does the vaccine work in children 12 to 15 years of age?

Absolutely! Actually, in the phase 3 study, this age group has shown the best immune response to the vaccine of all groups studied. In the children participating in vaccine trials, the vaccine was 100% efficacious, meaning none of the children who received the vaccine got COVID-19.  This is great news!

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. The main side effects observed in this age group were pain at the site of injection and fatigue. Some patients also reported headache, chills and muscle pain. Very few patients had fever, joint pain or nausea. All of these side effects were short lived (average 1-3 days) and resolved completely. These minor effects were more common after the second dose.

How many doses are needed?

Two doses are needed, separated by 3 weeks. Full protection happens two (2) weeks (14 days) after the second dose of the vaccine.

If children tend to have milder disease with COVID-19, why is it important to vaccinate them?

There are three main reasons to vaccinate our children—to protect them; to protect others and help control the pandemic; and to allow them return to their prior social activities.

  1. To protect them. It is true that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children when compared to adults. However, we cannot lose track of the bigger picture. Per the most recent CDC data, since March 2020, there have been 1.5 million cases of infected children between 11-17 years of age. Of these, not all are mild cases. There are children in this age group that have also had severe disease. This age group is also at risk for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19 in children. This is a severe and potentially life-threatening complication of COVID. Additionally, COVID is still a new disease and we are still working to understand its full effects. There is increasing evidence that even those with mild disease may be at risk of developing more chronic symptoms of COVID (“long haulers”). We still do not know if and which long-term consequences of infection those individuals may have. A parallel example is for the case of measles, where only after getting natural infection, children can develop a fatal encephalopathy up to 10 years after the initial infection. That disease is 100% fatal.  So, even though it does seem children have milder case of COVID-19, that is not the case for all, and some do get sick and need hospitalization and ultimately die; plus we still yet don’t know if this disease will have unexpected long-term consequences to those who got it. This is why it is important to protect them.
  2. To protect others: Even if they get a mild case of the disease, we know that they can transmit it to other susceptible individuals.  Studies have shown that teens are very efficient in transmitting disease when it comes to COVID-19. Vaccination will reduce transmission in the community and protect those most vulnerable.
  3. To be able to have them return to their prior social activities:Lastly, we know how deeply this pandemic has affected our teens emotionally. Being away from school and their friends has had an immense impact on their mental health. We are seeing increased need for medical services due to mental health problems in this age group since the pandemic started. Getting teens vaccinated and protected is a crucial step to getting back to normal life, so they can start socializing safely again.
How do I schedule an appointment to have my child vaccinated?

A parent or guardian must accompany the child. He or she should have no reported allergies to the vaccine components. You do not have to be a Marshall Health patient to participate.

The CDC now allows for administration of COVID-19 vaccines at the same time, shortly after or prior to other vaccines. Therefore, the timing of other routine vaccines does not affect eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine is available to individuals 12 and older at following COVID-19 vaccination sites:

  • Marshall Pediatrics (Marshall University Medical Center location only) offers the Pfizer vaccine to ages 12 to 18 by appointment only. To schedule, call 304-691-1300.
  • Marshall Family Medicine (Marshall University Medical Center location only) offers the Moderna (18 and older), Johnson & Johnson (18 and older) and Pfizer (12 and older) vaccines by appointment only. To schedule, call 304-691-1100.
  • Marshall Internal Medicine (Byrd Clinical Center) offers the Moderna (18 and older), Johnson & Johnson (18 and older) and Pfizer (12 and older) vaccines for appointment only. To schedule, call 304-691-1000.

At the end of the day, we believe this vaccine works and, more importantly, that it is safe. We believe that vaccination across all age groups is essential to get this pandemic under control and keep our community safe.


Mariana Lanata, MD

Dr. Mariana Lanata is a fellowship-trained pediatric infectious disease specialist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.