Winter is fast approaching and cold weather will force many of us indoors. Because of that and the holiday festivities we enjoy this season, one side effect will be that the bubble of people around us will grow right along with the risk of disease transmission, including of COVID-19. That’s why we remind anyone age 12 or older to get vaccinated.
“We want to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death, and the best way to do that is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated,” said Carrie Horn, MD, chief medical officer and chief of the Division of Hospital & Internal Medicine at National Jewish Health. “Vaccination could also potentially cut down the duration of time you have symptoms, if you get COVID, and lower your viral load faster, which means you’re less likely to transmit the disease to others.”
With vaccine currently approved for adults and children over 12 years old, approximately 56% of the United States population has been fully vaccinated. This leaves a sizeable portion of the population, including all those under age 12 still able to spread COVID-19. Fortunately, those numbers could shrink substantially once there is approval of vaccine for children ages 5-11 and that may happen soon. On Oct. 7, 2021, Pfizer-BioNTech requested the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize emergency use of its vaccine for this age group. If this happens, we could see these children become fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving.
The standard dose for each shot of the Pfizer vaccine for adults is 30 micrograms. This is the same for third doses, sometimes called a booster dose. For kids ages 5-11, Pfizer is proposing doses of 10 micrograms each, about one third the amount that adults receive. Experts believe this is a sufficient amount for their immune systems and that kids will likely feel the same, minor side effects older people do.
Currently, the Moderna vaccine is not approved for third doses or for children. A standard adult dose of the Moderna vaccine is 100 micrograms.
A main goal since the beginning of the pandemic was for the nation to reach herd immunity, a level where if enough people are protected the disease has nowhere to reach. That goal is unattainable without vaccinating children. The U.S. Census estimates there are more than 28 million children age 5-11 in the country, about 9% of our population.
“Having kids vaccinated is really important in cutting down the spread,” said Dr. Horn. “It could help us get to where this is more of an endemic level of disease instead of a pandemic or epidemic level, where COVID becomes more manageable, like the flu.”
In general, kids are less likely to become seriously ill if they are infected, but there are cases where children in this age group have been hospitalized or died. And even if they don’t suffer immediate severe symptoms, some have had long term “long haul” symptom and kids can still pass the virus on to others.
Dr. Horn compares the situation to vaccinating for another well-known disease that is usually thought to be benign, chickenpox.
“A lot of people think of chickenpox as something every kid used to just get, but the problem was some did die or had chronic illness because of it,” she said. “Now we vaccinate kids for it so that doesn’t happen, and we prevent them from infecting people at much higher risk for complications, such as pregnant women.”
Yes, it’s true most kids this age don’t get that sick, but it is possible that your kid could. And it is also possible that your child could pass it along to a higher-risk family member,” she added.
If the vaccine is approved for younger children and you are a parent who hasn’t yet received the vaccine yourself, consider getting vaccinated as a family, like many families do for annual flu shots.
“Certainly, I think that’s a great idea because it normalizes getting vaccinated for the kids and can make them less nervous when parents are getting vaccinated together,” said Dr. Horn. “Just make sure to make an appointment, as space may be an issue because people need to be monitored for 15 minutes at the vaccine location after a dose.”
The information on our website is medically reviewed and accurate at the time of publication. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, information may have since changed. CDC.gov and your state’s health department may offer additional guidance.