Many parents are breathing a sigh of relief that they can finally get their babies, toddlers, and preschoolers vaccinated against COVID-19. Two brands of the vaccine have now been authorized for children as young as 6 months old, so the little ones can now join the ranks of people ages 5 and up who have helped protect themselves.
So does your young child really need a COVID-19 vaccine? After all, younger children often have milder illness when they get infected. The answer is a resounding “yes,” since many young children have had serious symptoms requiring hospitalization, and some have even died. Small children can even develop long COVID, with symptoms that bother them for a long time.
Parents might also wonder why it took so long for the vaccines to be authorized for this age group. It took a long time to get the vaccines authorized for young children because studies first focused only on adults. Once they were found to be safe in adults, experts felt more comfortable testing the vaccines in children.
Studies of thousands of children have shown that these vaccines are extremely safe for children of all ages. COVID-19 vaccine side effects in babies and young children are similar to those from other routine childhood vaccines and from the COVID-19 vaccines that older kids and adults get. They can include a sore arm, fever, lack of appetite, body aches, headaches, or tiredness for a day or two. But the studies didn’t show any dangerous or concerning side effects for either brand of vaccine.
While both brands of vaccine are effective, safe and equally recommended, there are a few differences:
- Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is given as three shots over about three months, with the first two given three to eight weeks apart and the third given at least two months after the second one. The dose in the Pfizer shot is a little lower than the dose in the Moderna shot, which seems to make side effects like fever a little less likely.
- Moderna vaccine is given as two shots one to two months apart. Kids with weaker immune systems get a third shot at least a month after the second one. The higher dose in each shot seems to make mild side effects (such as fever) a little more likely than with the Pfizer vaccine.
The bottom line is that both vaccines work well and are safe. While some families may prefer fewer shots and doctor visits, and others may prefer a lower dose in the hope of seeing fewer side effects, kids should really get the vaccine that is most readily available to them. Talk to your child’s doctor if you have questions about the different vaccines.
For more information on the vaccine for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, visit Nemours KidsHealth.org.