AP Photo/Ben Gray
AP Photo/Ben Gray

Kids ages 5 and up can now get the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s what you need to know if you live in Virginia.

RICHMOND—The long-awaited day finally arrived. If your child is 5 or older, he or she can now get a shot to protect them from the worst of COVID-19.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 received a 14-0 unanimous recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Nov. 2. The recommendation followed an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Oct. 29.

Now, the question for many parents shifts from when the vaccine will be available to where children can get it. 

Spoiler alert: In most locations across the commonwealth, it’s not as easy as walking into a pediatrician’s office and asking for the shot. At least, not yet.

Where Can My Child Get the Vaccine?

Virginia will receive 377,000 doses for children in the first round of shipments, which travel from Pfizer’s manufacturing facilities to jurisdictions throughout the commonwealth. There are approximately 723,000 children within the 5 to 11 age range in Virginia. 

Dr. Danny Avula, state vaccine coordinator, said at a telepress briefing on Wednesday that two-thirds of the first shipment will go to health departments, private practices, and health systems, while 125,000 doses will go to pharmacies. He relayed no concerns about availability or supply.

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Like adults, children can register for the vaccine through Vaccinate Virginia. Parents will complete a similar registration process for their children on the site.

“We needed to create a different pathway because the 5 to 11 vaccine is a slightly different formulation,” Avula said. “It’s not just a different mix of the vaccine we’ve had so far. It’s a different mixture that is being distributed through a separate pathway.” 

To ensure providers have the formulation on hand, parents need to register their younger children for a vaccine appointment. They may also call ahead to their pediatrician or local pharmacy to check availability of the vaccine and inquire about their appointment options and process. 

According to Brookie Crawford, public information officer for the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Central Region, vaccination rollout methods will vary depending on where Virginians live.

“As we saw with the vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds, each local health district (LHD) is handling it differently, based on what works best in their communities,” Crawford said. “Some LHDs are working with their school systems to offer vaccination clinics at the schools. Some LHDs are partnering with a pharmacy to get the children vaccinated. Others are partnering with pediatricians. Some LHDs will administer the vaccine to this age range at Community Vaccination Centers where they have set up ‘kid pods’ to offer privacy for the children to be vaccinated. Others are targeting specific areas with mobile vaccine clinics.”

As the end of the year approaches, vaccine opportunities for children will become more widely available.

“VDH expects that over the next few weeks all children in Virginia will have access to the vaccine, but some areas may see high demand at first,” Crawford said. “While parents might not be able to get it right away at the location they’d like, the COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds will be widely available across Virginia in the coming weeks.”

Is This Vaccine Safe for My Child?

Generally speaking, the COVID vaccine is safe and effective for children 5 and older. Those with allergies or other known diseases or conditions should first consult a doctor before getting the vaccine. 

“For a healthy child, a parent can make the decision for the vaccine themselves,” Crawford said. “The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks.”

Crawford noted that the side effects in younger children are similar to those experienced by adolescents and young adults, but tend to happen less often. No serious side effects occurred in the ongoing clinical study, which includes approximately 3,100 kids.

The CDC does not recommend taking over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen, aspirin, or acetaminophen before vaccination because it isn’t known how these medications affect the vaccine’s efficacy. However, if a child takes these types of medications regularly for other reasons, they should keep taking them before getting vaccinated. It is also not recommended to take antihistamines before getting a COVID-19 vaccine to try to prevent allergic reactions.

Ahead of the vaccine appointment, your child may have questions or concerns about getting the shot. Crawford suggests having a conversation with them beforehand.

“The experience of getting a COVID-19 vaccine will be very similar to the experience of getting routine vaccines,” Crawford said. “You should talk to your child about what to expect.”

Avula also encouraged talking with kids about the importance of getting the vaccine.

“I think for our older kids, they have seen and lived through the impact of this,” Avula said. “And so I think being able to frame this in, ‘Hey, this is important for you to both protect yourself and protect your classmates and your friends and your grandparents that you’re going to get to spend time with.’ Really helping them understand that they’re getting vaccinated to help protect other people is going to be really important.”

Looking at the Numbers

At the time the FDA authorized the vaccine for use for younger children, 5- to 11-year-olds made up 39% of COVID cases for those under 18. Approximately 8,300 COVID-19 cases in that age group resulted in hospitalization, according to the CDC. As of Oct. 23, the Virginia Department of Health had documented 976 COVID-related hospitalizations among children since March 2020.

The vaccine is an effective contender in the continued fight against COVID-19, even at a smaller dose. Younger children will receive a 10-microgram dose, compared to a 30-microgram dose for older siblings and parents. The younger children’s dose is 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19.

“Virginia has done an amazing job so far. You look at the eligible population up until today—you know, our 12 and up population—[77.5%] of that population has been … vaccinated,” Avula said. “And so now we have the opportunity to open up to another group and to ensure that they can both be protected and that we can add to our overall community protection.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com