COVID-19 vaccine approved for children ages 5 to 11. Get answers to your questions.

Nov. 4, 2021
child some where between 5 to 11 getting a COVID vaccine.
Children ages 5 to 11 can now get the COVID vaccine. Photo: Getty Images.

More than 28 million children ages 5 to 11 now can get COVID-19 vaccines after federal health experts authorized the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for children on Nov. 2.

The vaccines for children could be game-changers for families of school-aged kids who have been waiting months to vaccinate their children. Not only will the vaccines prevent COVID-19 illnesses in children, they also will make schools and communities safer.

“We have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said after endorsing the recommendations of health experts at both the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration.

“As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” Walensky said.

The COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11 are both safe and highly effective.

“In clinical trials, vaccination was found to be nearly 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 among children ages 5 to 11,” Walensky said during a White House press briefing on Nov. 3. “The safety of our children is of utmost importance to me, and I believe these vaccines will help us to better protect our children from COVID-19.”

Now that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for kids, here’s everything parents need to know about COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11.

When will children start receiving vaccines?

Children ages 5 to 11 will be able to get their vaccines almost immediately. That’s because federal and state health officials have been distributing children’s doses of the Pfizer vaccine for weeks in anticipation of the federal approval that came in early November.

UCHealth experts answer the most important questions about COVID-19 and kids, including symptoms, exposure and how to keep children healthy.

Clinical trials are underway now for babies and toddlers, ages 6 months to 2 years. Vaccines for the youngest children could be approved within months.

Learn more about getting free COVID-19 vaccines for children and people of all ages through UCHealth. 

Find free COVID-19 vaccines for children at locations throughout Colorado.

Where will children get their vaccines?

COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 are available at multiple locations from pediatricians’ offices to family medicine clinics and at pharmacies, schools, children’s hospitals and places like zoos. 

Will kids get the same dose as teens and adults?

No. The dose for children ages 5 to 11 is one-third the adult dose. The kid-sized dose is 10 micrograms compared to an adult dose of 30 micrograms.

Do children ages 5 to 11 need two doses of Pfizer vaccines like teens and adults?

Yes. Children will get two doses, 21 days apart, just like teen and adult Pfizer recipients.

I’ve heard COVID-19 hasn’t really affected children. Is that true?

No. In general, children haven’t gotten as sick as adults who become infected with COVID-19. But the coronavirus has had profound effects on children ages 5 to 11, according to CDC data.

And, in recent months, as the delta variant has driven dangerous new spikes in COVID-19 infections around the U.S., children who couldn’t be vaccinated suffered a dramatic increase in cases. In recent weeks, children ages 5 to 11 were suffering nearly 11% of the total infections in the U.S. During a six-week period from late June to mid-August, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased fivefold, according to CDC health experts. 

Thus far, during the pandemic, health experts have documented the following impacts on children ages 5 to 11:

  • At least 1.9 million cases of COVID-19.
  • 8,300 hospitalizations
  • 2,316 cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome or MIS-C.

What is MIS-C?

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a serious condition associated with COVID-19 where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. 

Have children died from COVID-19?

Yes. Among children ages 5 to 11, 94 have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic, according to CDC data. 

What if children already have had COVID-19? Should they still get the vaccine?

Yes. Medical experts recommend that everyone ages 5 and older should get a vaccine, even if they think they’ve had a previous infection. A September CDC study found the presence of antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 in about 38% of children ages 5 to 11. 

Will young children need booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines?

The CDC has not released any guidance regarding boosters for children aged 5-11. The CDC announced in January 2022 that it recommends that all adolescents aged 12-17 years who received Pfizer should receive a booster shot 5 months after their primary series. As of Jan. 6, 2022, they have not released any guidance regarding boosters for adolescents aged 12-17 who have received Moderna.

Can children get the Moderna vaccines or any other vaccines?

No. Not yet. So far, the Moderna vaccine has been approved for people ages 18 and older. Moderna and Novavax are both testing COVID-19 vaccines in children.

What are the common side effects for children?

Children ages 5 to 11 who participated in the Pfizer clinical trials had fewer side effects to COVID-19 vaccines than teens or adults. The most common side effect was a sore arm. Fewer side effects for younger children may relate to the lower dose for kids ages 5 to 11.

Other side effects reported during the clinical trial were fever, body aches and exhaustion. Side effects were more common after the second dose and went away within hours or a couple of days.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 safe?

Yes. The vaccine clinical trial showed that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children age 5 or older. The trial included 4,600 children, ages 5 to 11. Of those children, 3,100 received the vaccine and 1,538 received the placebo.

Trial results found that the vaccine was 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in children ages 5 to 11. Among the children who received the vaccine, rather than the placebo, only three children got COVID-19. That infection rate compared with 16 COVID-19 infections among children who received the placebo. 

In addition to the clinical trial data, independent medical experts with both the FDA and the CDC researched and reviewed the Pfizer vaccine for children. A CDC advisory panel unanimously approved the Pfizer vaccine for children after determining it was both safe and effective.

Did any of the children in the study experience ‘adverse effects’ or serious health problems related to the vaccines?

No. None of the children in the study experienced any adverse effects that were related to the vaccines. A handful of children reported unrelated adverse effects, including one child who ingested a penny during the study.

What about myocarditis? I’ve heard that some teen boys and young men have gotten myocarditis after receiving COVID-19 vaccines. Is myocarditis a concern for children ages 5 to 11?

A very small percentage of teen boys and young men have experienced myocarditis or inflammation of the heart tissue after receiving mRNA vaccines like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 shots

None of the children who participated in the Pfizer clinical trials for children ages 5 to 11 experienced myocarditis or pericarditis, which is swelling of tissues around the heart. CDC experts say too few children participated in the clinical trials to determine if any cases of myocarditis are likely to occur in young children.

CDC experts expect myocarditis and pericarditis cases to be very rare in children ages 5 to 11.  If any do occur, however, parents should report any adverse effects to the Vaccine Adverse Event Monitoring System.

Serious complications of COVID-19 illnesses are much more common than adverse effects from vaccines. Therefore, health experts strongly recommend COVID-19 vaccines. The benefits far outweigh any risks.

Can my child get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

Yes. It’s fine for children to get their flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time. CDC experts are advising medical providers to give the shots in slightly different locations in the child’s arm. And, for children who don’t have a large muscle mass in their upper arms, medical providers can give the vaccines in the child’s thigh instead.

How much do COVID-19 vaccines for children cost?

The COVID-19 vaccine for children is free, just like all COVID-19 vaccines.

Do children need a doctor’s order to get the vaccine?

No. Anyone age 5 or older can get a vaccine without a doctor’s order. Just make an appointment at a location where you wish to get your vaccine.

How should I prepare my child for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Both for adults and children, it’s great to stay hydrated before receiving a vaccine.

Follow these tips.

What if my child has needle phobia?

If your child is afraid of getting vaccines, you can get help to make it much easier for children to get vaccines. Learn more about how to reduce fears about needles.

Are Black and Hispanic children getting sicker from COVID-19?

It appears that children of color have gotten more severely ill from COVID-19 infections than other children. So far, among children who have been hospitalized with COVID-19, 68% have been Black or Hispanic, according to a recent study in Pediatrics. About two-thirds of hospitalized children with COVID-19 had underlying medical conditions including asthma and obesity.

Did the Pfizer clinical trial include children of color?

Yes, the researchers worked hard to include children from diverse backgrounds. Some participants also had underlying health conditions like asthma and obesity.

Do COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility problems immediately or later in life?

No. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause problems for those trying to get pregnant now or for children or teens who someday may want to get pregnant. COVID-19 vaccines do not change the DNA or alter a person’s cells in any way.

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.