On Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet to review data on COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11.

If all goes as expected, U.S. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will then make a formal recommendation that would open eligibility to elementary school-age children.

Here’s what you need to know:

Q: Which vaccine will be offered to children?

A: The CDC is only considering the Pfizer vaccine for children at this time. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have been studying the efficacy and safety of their vaccines for children but have not yet requested federal approval.

Q: Is Pfizer’s vaccine for children different than what has been offered to adults?


A: The Pfizer vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds will still be a two-dose regimen, taken 21 days apart, but the children’s dose is smaller – about 10 micrograms, or one-third of the adult dose. Like adults, children will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot.

Q: Is the vaccine safe for kids?

A: Overwhelmingly, yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee voted 17-0 last week to recommend emergency use authorization, saying the benefits far outweigh any risks.

In clinical trials involving more than 3,000 children who received the vaccine, there were no serious adverse events. The most common reactions were similar to those associated with flu shots – pain at the injection site, fatigue and headaches – and those were mild.

Q: Why did it take so long?

A: Approving vaccines for smaller children was more challenging in part because Pfizer needed to find enough subjects for a robust clinical trial, one of the key steps in approving any vaccine. Additionally, getting the right size dose was the subject of much debate.


Q: If children are at low risk of developing serious symptoms from COVID-19, why is it important for them to be vaccinated?

A: It’s true that throughout the pandemic children who have gotten COVID-19 have generally had mild cases. But there are still risks, and still things we don’t know about the long-term effects of having COVID-19.

In the U.S., nearly 2 million children have been infected since the pandemic began, according to U.S. CDC data. Of those, 8,300 have been hospitalized and 94 have died. Although the number of deaths is small, it’s still in the top 10 causes of death for this age group.

The vaccine was found to be 91 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in 5-11-year-olds.

Beyond that, unvaccinated children can still be carriers and vectors of the virus, keeping it alive and risking infecting others in their family, including older relatives or those with immunodeficiencies. Vaccinations dramatically reduce the risk of transmitting the disease.

And from a practical standpoint, having children vaccinated will help normalize school. Vaccinated children do not need to be quarantined if they come into contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19.


If enough children are vaccinated, mask mandates in schools could also be lifted.

Q: How soon will shots be available?

A: States, including Maine, have been preparing for months for the likelihood that child vaccines would be approved. Even though vaccines cannot be administered until the CDC authorizes them, states can start ordering doses. That means vaccinations could begin within a day of CDC authorization.

Q: Where can parents get their children vaccinated?

A: The primary vaccination sites for children are expected to be school-based clinics, pediatricians’ offices, and some retail pharmacies.

Health care providers already have partnered with schools to set up clinics, and the vaccine is going to be made available in smaller batches to deliver to doctors’ offices. Unlike the early rollout of the vaccine when Pfizer’s vaccine needed ultra-cold storage, the children’s dose can be stored in a refrigerator for 10 weeks.


Q: What will it cost?

A: As has been the case with vaccines for adults, there is no cost for parents to vaccinate their children and no insurance requirements.

Q: Will the COVID-19 vaccine be a requirement to attend school?

A: Currently, no, although it’s possible that could change. Maine law already requires public school students to complete a host of vaccinations, for things like chickenpox and measles, and also no longer allows parents to opt their children out of vaccinations for religious or philosophical reasons. An effort to overturn that law change failed overwhelmingly in a 2020 referendum.

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