What California parents need to know about Covid vaccinations for children | Quick Guide

November 10, 2021

Seven-year-old Ari Alleyne receives the children's dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine from RN Priya Meyer, Nursing Professional Development Mgr at Children's Hospital Los Angeles on Nov. 3, 2021.

Now that Covid-19 vaccinations for children age 5 and older are available in California, many parents are eager to sign their children up for the vaccine. But widespread misinformation about Covid-19 and the vaccine has some parents wondering whether to get their child immunized.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer Covid vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 in May and a pediatric dose of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 in late October. Children 16 and older also are eligible for the adult Pfizer vaccine, which has full approval.

“Vaccines are how we end this pandemic, and they’re how we keep our kids safe – it’s time to get our children the protection they need from this deadly virus, especially as we head into the winter season,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in announcing the state’s rollout of the vaccine on Nov. 3. “California is leading the nation in vaccinations with 54 million administered and 87% of the eligible population with at least one dose, and we’re moving swiftly to implement a robust and equitable vaccination program that will cover this newly eligible age group.”

The federal government plans to give California 1.2 million doses of the children’s vaccine, enough to vaccinate all of its 5- to 11-year-olds, health authorities said.

California K-12 students will be required to be vaccinated against Covid following the FDA’s authorization of the Covid vaccine for each age group age 5 and up. School staff are currently required to be vaccinated or tested, but they will not have the testing option once the student mandate kicks in.

Why should my child be vaccinated against Covid-19?

Clinical trials of the vaccine showed that the vaccine was 90.7% effective in preventing Covid-19 in children ages 5 to 11 and 100% effective in teens ages 12 to 15.

Although vaccinated people can still contract Covid and spread it, they are less likely to develop serious illness and spread the disease than those who are unvaccinated and contract Covid-19. High vaccination coverage in a population also reduces the spread of the virus and helps prevent new variants from emerging.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is the best way to keep your child safe and protect them against Covid-19, including the Delta variant,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Education on Nov. 4. “Kids are being infected with Covid-19, occasionally leading to serious illness and even death in certain cases. Even if your child doesn’t get severely ill, they could be diagnosed with what is known as ‘long Covid’ and face long-term health consequences or pass the virus on to others.”

How can Covid-19 impact a child’s health?

Covid can cause long-term health problems, including infertility, “brain fog” and multisystem inflammatory syndrome, in which the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or other organs become inflamed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although most children will have mild symptoms and get better on their own, there have been 6.4 million reported cases of Covid-19 in children under 18, about 16% of all cases nationwide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children make up 22% of the U.S. population. Almost 900 have died.

In the 5-to-11 age group alone, there have been more than 2 million reported cases of Covid in the United States, resulting in 8,300 hospitalizations and 146 deaths, making it one of the top 10 leading causes of death for children in that age group, said Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner.

Complications from the disease include pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, multi-organ failure, septic shock and death.

Is the vaccine safe for my child?

The FDA has found the vaccines safe and effective for children. In California and other Western states, the trials and other research have also been reviewed by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup. All groups found the vaccines to be safe and effective for children.

There are many myths circulating on social media about the vaccine. The vaccines don’t contain metals or ingredients that would make a person magnetic. They don’t contain microchips to track people and because they don’t contain the virus, they don’t cause people to shed the virus inside or outside their body, according to the CDC.

“Parents and guardians can rest assured that we conducted a comprehensive and rigorous evaluation of the data on the vaccine safety and effectiveness, and that this vaccine meets our high standards,” Woodcock said after the approval of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

Vaccine trials for the 5-to-11 age group included 4,600 children, and no serious side effects were detected, Woodcock said. Vaccine trials for the 12-to-15 age group included 2,200 children, with only mild to moderate side effects.

The pediatric vaccine will be given in two doses 21 days apart, like the adult dose. But the doses will only be 10 micrograms — or a third the amount of the adult dose. Adolescents 12 and older get the same dose of Pfizer vaccine as adults.

The Pfizer shot is an mRNA vaccine, which uses a harmless piece of “spike protein” to trigger an immune response in the body, according to the CDC. The Pfizer vaccine itself is new, but mRNA vaccines have been researched for decades. The vaccine doesn’t contain a live virus.

Does the vaccine have side effects?

Many people report they have had no side effects from the Covid vaccine. When there are side effects, the most common, for children and adults, are sore arms at the site of the shot, fatigue and mild fever, said Dr. Norma Perez, a pediatrician and medical director of AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles.

Other potential side effects could include headache, chills, muscle pain, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, nausea and decreased appetite, according to the Mayo Clinic. The side effects usually occur within two days of the vaccination and last one to three days.

In rare instances, the vaccine can cause heart inflammation called myocarditis. In trials, no children ages 5 to 11 contracted the illness, although older children, especially boys, are more susceptible, according to the CDC.  Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath and feeling a fast-beating or pounding heart. If a child has those symptoms, seek medical care. Most cases are mild and patients recover at home.

Children are much more likely to contract myocarditis from Covid-19 than from the vaccine, health officials said.

How do I prepare my child for a vaccine?

The CDC recommends:

Does my child need to be vaccinated if he has already had Covid?

Yes. A CDC study of Kentucky residents showed that unvaccinated individuals are twice as likely to be re-infected with Covid than vaccinated people. The CDC recommends that everyone be vaccinated even if they have had the disease.

There is some level of immunity after a Covid-19 infection, but its duration is unpredictable. A Yale study, published in October, reports that immunity from Covid after recovering from an infection can last from three to 61 months.

Where can my child receive a vaccination?

Vaccines for children are available at clinics, doctor’s offices and schools across California. The state is launching a public information campaign to encourage children and their parents to get vaccinated.

If your child’s pediatrician or school isn’t offering vaccinations, parents can check with their local health department to see where vaccination clinics are being held or call their local pharmacy to see if it is taking appointments for pediatric Covid shots.

Parents can also search the California Department of Public Health’s My Turn website to find a vaccination clinic or make an appointment for a vaccination.

Will I be required to get my child vaccinated?

California’s school Covid-19 vaccine mandate, the nation’s first, applies to all students in kindergarten through 12th grade in public, charter and private schools, and all school employees. It goes into effect in the first semester, either Jan. 1 or July 1, following the FDA’s full approval of the Covid vaccine for each age group.

Only the Pfizer vaccine is fully approved for people 16 and older. The Pfizer vaccine has emergency authorization for use in children between the ages of 5 and 11 and adolescents between the ages of 11 and 15.

The requirement follows vaccine mandates in several California school districts for students 12 and over, including Los Angeles UnifiedSan Diego Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Culver City Unified and Oakland Unified. Newsom encouraged other districts to enact their own mandates ahead of the state’s plan.

There is precedent for requiring vaccinations. Under state law, children at public K-12 schools must be immunized against 10 serious communicable diseases if they want to attend public or private schools and child care centers in person.

“The rules are not new; they are well established. In a way, this is the most predictable announcement that we’ve had in this pandemic,” Newsom said. “Every parent is already familiar with these requirements. This is just another vaccine.”

Are there exemptions to the school vaccination mandate?

The requirement leaves open the possibility for families to opt out of the Covid-19 vaccine. Because the mandate comes from the governor, and not the Legislature, it allows exemptions for medical, religious or personal reasons.

Students with these exemptions can attend school in person, said state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who chairs the Senate Health Committee. Students who choose independent study, which allows them to study from home, won’t have to file an exemption or get vaccinated, he said.

But the exemption rules could change. State legislators have indicated they are considering legislation to strengthen the vaccine requirement, which could include eliminating some exemptions or outlining how families must obtain exemptions.

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