COVID Vaccines for Children Are Becoming a Reality

Practitioners can help ensure that kids get these and all age-appropriate vaccinations before school starts in the fall.

The pandemic has changed life as we knew it, but COVID-19 vaccines are changing lives again, this time for the better.

Grandparents are once again able to hug their grandchildren, but those same grandchildren are still at risk for COVID-19 until we can get all of them who are medically able vaccinated. At press time, children accounted for the largest number of new cases of COVID-19, because most are still not vaccinated (AAP, 2021, April).1 Hospitalization rates for children with COVID-19 have also risen, and serious cases are being seen (AAP, 2021, June).2 From March 1, 2020, through April 30, 2021, approximately 1.5 million COVID-19 cases in individuals aged 11 to 17 years had been reported to the CDC (USFDA, 2021, May 10).3

Most children will return to classrooms for school in the fall, if they have not done so already (Parents, 2021, March).4 Although handwashing, masks, and social distancing are essential public health measures and have slowed the pandemic, the best and most long-lasting way to protect children is to vaccinate them. The number of COVID-19 cases among individuals aged 50 years and older has dropped dramatically. A large segment of this population is fully vaccinated (CDC, 2021, June 13).5 There is also a serious public health threat from other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles and pertussis, as the rates of routine immunizations took a precipitous drop during the pandemic (Santoli, et al. 2020).6 The CDC is recommending that children receive all regularly scheduled vaccines, along with the COVID-19 vaccine (CDC, 2021 April 6).7

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is an mRNA vaccine, recently received FDA approval for adolescents aged 12 through 15 years (USFDA, 2021, May 10).3 This vaccine is administered intramuscularly as a series of 2 doses (0.3 mL each) 3 weeks apart. The most common adverse effects are chills, fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, pain and redness at the injection site, and tiredness. Aside from pain at the injection site, more adolescents reported these adverse effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important to advise adolescents and parents to expect that there may be some adverse effects after either dose but even more so after the second. The adverse effects in adolescents were consistent with those reported in clinical trial participants aged 16 years and older (USFDA, 2021, May 10).3

Pfizer also said that it plans to request authorization for BioNTech COVID vaccine use in children aged 2 through 11 years in September 2021 and for children younger than aged 2 years later in 2021 (Jenco, 2021, May 6).8

Recently, there have been reports of myocarditis and pericarditis following mRNA vaccines. These events occurred mostly in male adolescents and young adults aged 16 years and older. Myocarditis and pericarditis are seen more often after getting the second dose of either Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines than after the first dose. The symptoms typically occur within 4 days after COVID-19 vaccination. As of press time, there have been 275 cases of either myocarditis or pericarditis of more than 600,000 doses administered to adolescents and children in the United States since Pfizer received its emergency use authorization on May 10, 2021 (CDC, 2021, May 18).9 Most patients who received care responded well to rest and treatment and quickly recovered. Patients can usually return to normal daily activities after their symptoms improve, and they should speak with health care providers about returning to exercise or sports. The CDC continues to monitor the situation and recommends COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone aged 12 years and older, given the greater risk of COVID-19 illness and related, possibly severe complications (CDC, 2021, May 27).10 Getting vaccinated is the best way to help protect individuals aged 12 years and older from COVID-19 illness and potential complications.

Another COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents is also moving toward approval. Moderna reported that its COVID-19 vaccine is 96% effective for adolescents aged 12 through 17 years after at least 1 dose and has no serious safety concerns (Jenco, 2021, May 6).8 The report did not provide additional details on a projected timeline for requesting FDA approval. Moderna is also continuing to study its vaccine in children aged 6 months to 11 years (Jenco, 2021, May 6).8

COVID-19 vaccines are becoming a reality for children. With the vaccines comes the return to birthday parties, in-classroom school, play dates, and sleepovers. But the COVID vaccine is not the only one children need. Routine vaccination is an essential preventive care service for adolescents, children, and adults, including pregnant women, that should not be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents have not been bringing their children into the offices of health care providers for well-child visits and vaccines. It is essential to assess the vaccination status of all adolescents and children at each patient visit to avoid missed opportunities for vaccination and ensure timely vaccine catch-up. All vaccines due or overdue should be administered according to the recommended CDC immunization schedules during each visit unless there is a specific contraindication. This will provide protection as soon as possible and minimize the number of health care visits needed to complete vaccination. Health care providers should identify children who have missed recommended vaccinations and/or well-child visits. Contact parents to schedule in-person appointments, starting with newborns, infants, and children up to aged 2 years, young children, and extending through adolescence. COVID-19 is still circulating, and cases among children can often be asymptomatic. Consequently, the importance of evidence-based infection prevention practices cannot be overemphasized for all patient encounters. These measures include hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, source control, and surface decontamination (CDC, 2021, April 6).7

Because vaccine administration has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, under vaccinated or unvaccinated children are susceptible to preventable illness, such as measles, and communities are at risk for outbreaks. Strategies should be implemented to promote vaccination schedule adherence and ensure catch-up vaccination. Reminder and recall systems should be implemented to identify children who are due for or who have missed vaccine doses. Electronic health records and immunization information systems can be essential to tracking delinquent vaccine doses. In addition, the vaccination status of all children should be assessed at every health care visit to reduce missed opportunities for vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccination, and standing orders should be implemented (CDC, 2021, April 6).7

Health care providers who care for children must ensure that children receive not just COVID-19 vaccines but all age-appropriate vaccines that are due and catch up on any missed doses. It would be a travesty if children headed back to school without the vaccine-induced protection they need to stay healthy. Without all Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)-indicated vaccines, children could be headed back to school and out of the COVID-19 pandemic into a measles or pertussis epidemic.

References

1. Children and COVID-19: state data report. American Academy of Pediatrics. April 29, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://downloads.aap.org/AAP/PDF/AAP%20and%20CHA%20-%20Children%20and%20COVID-19%20State%20Data%20Report%204.29.21%20FINAL.pdf

2. Children and COVID-19: state data report. American Academy of Pediatrics. June 3, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://downloads.aap.org/AAP/PDF/AAP%20and%20CHA%20-%20Children%20and%20COVID-19%20State%20Data%20Report%206.3.21%20FINAL.pdf 

3. United Stated Food and Drug Administration. (2021, May 10). Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Adolescents in Another Important Action in Fight Against Pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine-emergency-use

4. Harris N. Will kids go back to school in the fall? Here’s what experts think and what it may look like. Parents. March 8, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://www.parents.com/kids/education/back-to-school/will-kids-go-back-to-school-in-the-fall-heres-what-experts-think-and-what-it-may-look-like/ 

5. Demographic characteristics of people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States. CDC. June 16, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccination-demographic

6. Santoli JM, Lindley MC, DeSilva MB, et al. Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on routine pediatric vaccine ordering and administration — United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(19):591-593. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6919e2

7. Interim guidance for routine and influenza immunization services during the COVID-19 pandemic. CDC. April 6, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pandemic-guidance/index.html

8. Jenco M. Moderna reports COVID-19 vaccine for teens safe, effective. AAP News. May 6, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2021/05/06/moderna-covid-vaccine-teens-050621

9. Mendez R. CDC says 600,000 kids ages 12 to 15 have received Covid vaccine shots in last week. CDC. May 18, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/18/cdc-says-600000-kids-aged-12-to-15-have-received-covid-shots-in-last-week-.html

10. Myocarditis and pericarditis following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination. CDC. May 27, 2021. Accessed June 17, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/myocarditis.html

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