Ask SciMoms: When should I get the COVID vaccine for my kids?

The short answer: kids should get the vaccine as soon as one is available to them. 

On May 10, 2021, the FDA expanded authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for 12-15-year-olds. On May 12, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also recommended this vaccine for use in kids age 12 and up. With this announcement, many parents are wondering when, and even if, to get the COVID vaccine for their kids. If you have a child who is over the age of 12, make sure they are vaccinated as soon as possible, especially as the weather gets colder and we move indoors.

For kids 5-11, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine could also be available very soon. Pfizer submitted a request to the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for this age group on October 7. The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will review this data on October 26. This committee released a summary of their data this week. At this meeting, experts will review the data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines in kids under 12. They will vote on whether to recommend that the FDA grant EUA for the Pfizer COVID vaccine (Brand name: COMIRNATY) for kids aged 5-11. Assuming that vote is favorable, it would then go to the FDA to grant EUA. For previous EUAs for COVID vaccines, FDA granted EUAs the day after the VRBPAC vote. 

For previous EUAs, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met a few days after the FDA granted EUA and they are scheduled to meet on November 2. This committee makes specific recommendations about approved and authorized vaccines to the CDC about who specifically should get the vaccine and when. They base their recommendations on a wide range of issues from disease epidemiology to economics. For kids age 12 and up, vaccines were available in some states immediately after EUA was granted. Other states waited to administer vaccines until ACIP met and voted. (For more on the role of ACIP, see our post on the vaccine schedule.)

Once authorized, vaccines will be available for free through pediatrician’s offices and other primary care sites, local pharmacies, and school- and community-based clinics. The White House announced plans for vaccine administration on October 20 to be prepared for if and when EUA is granted.

Delaying COVID vaccines for kids is a risky strategy

As with all vaccines, there is no benefit to delaying vaccinations, only added risk. Just as waiting for a “better” COVID vaccine only comes with additional risk, waiting to get the COVID vaccine for kids only adds risk — both for your child and for the community. 

The benefits of COVID vaccination for individuals and communities are clear from clinical trials and real-world data in adults and the new clinical trials in kids. Specifically for kids age 12-15, the preliminary data announced in early April showed 100% efficacy at preventing symptomatic illness in this age group.

We have written about the risks of delaying routine childhood vaccinations, and many of these risks hold true for the COVID vaccine. Each day that your child remains unvaccinated increases their risk of infection and illness. Delaying fails to provide the bubble of immunity that younger kids and those unable to be vaccinated rely on. In our communities, waiting slows our collective progress toward herd immunity. The longer we take to get to herd immunity, the more opportunity the virus has to mutate and spread, potentially evading the protection that current vaccines provide.  

If kids are not high-risk, why do they need a vaccine?

We have written previously that kids are not in a high-risk category for COVID (meaning that they are less likely to have severe cases). There is a pervasive belief that because kids as a group are not in a high-risk category, they are individually safe from COVID. However, this ignores that “not high-risk” is not the same as no risk and that continued spread allows new variants to develop. This also ignores that although risk (the probability of severe outcomes or death) may be low, the potential harm is severe. Some kids do get severely sick, some die, and some develop “long COVID”. Unfortunately, we cannot know ahead of time which kids will get severely ill, die, or have long-term consequences of infection (“long COVID”).  

As with other childhood vaccinations, vaccines provide the best way to protect your child from severe disease.

Kids can also pass the virus onto others (especially during this current phase of the pandemic). Achieving herd immunity to protect us as individuals and as a community requires the very large majority of people (kids are people!) to have immunity. Vaccine-acquired immunity is, by far, the safest way to gain immunity to COVID. The best way to protect your kids, yourself, and your community is through vaccination. 

When will SciMoms get our kids vaccinated?

As we wrote early in the pandemic (before any vaccines were authorized), the SciMoms will vaccinate our children as soon as the COVID vaccines are authorized for use in our kids’ age groups and the vaccines are available to us. Those of us with kids over the age of 12 got them vaccinated within days of authorization. We are confident that the processes for vaccine authorization and safety monitoring are working to ensure both safety and efficacy and this applies to COVID vaccines for kids.

We recognize that this post is about individual decisions to vaccinate when vaccines are available to you and does not address the issue of availability. In the face of inequitable vaccine availability and access around the world, we support efforts to ensure equitable production, availability, distribution, and accessibility of vaccines in all countries. Access to vaccines cannot be limited to the wealthy countries that produce them and we support plans that allow vaccination of all people of the world as quickly as possible (rather than 2023 as some analyses have suggested). Our hope is that every person in the world is in a position to ask the question: should I get my COVID vaccine today?

Other resources

Guidance for parents regarding the COVID19 vaccine – Your Local Epidemiologist (this link includes a great summary of top parental concerns that SciMoms highly recommends)

Why Immunize Children?  — CDC

About Vaccines iVaccinate

Common Concerns  — Boost Oregon

How do I talk to kids about vaccines? Dear Pandemic

This post was updated on October 24, 2021.