On the heels of a recommendation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, Arizona could see appointments for children in that age group open up in the coming weeks.
An FDA advisory committee voted 17-0 Tuesday to recommend expanding the eligibility for children. The Pfizer vaccine had previously only been available to those 12 and older.
In Arizona, that means 600,000 children will soon be eligible for vaccination, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Despite some debate over whether children are at risk from severe complications from COVID-19, the FDA panelists pointed to the benefits of getting children vaccinated, including in places where mitigation efforts like masks aren’t being enforced in schools.
Here’s what Arizona parents need to know ahead of making an appointment for their child.
Does My Child Need the Vaccine?
In Arizona, 40 children have died of COVID-19, the second-highest number in the country, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nearly 3,000 people younger than 20 have been hospitalized since the start of the pandemic, according to ADHS.
Research has also found that people inoculated against COVID-19 have a lower likelihood of developing long-term symptoms and complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) from the virus.
While rare, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported earlier this summer that over 4,000 children in the US had contracted MIS-C related to COVID-19. Of those, 36 children died from MIS-C.
In a report released last week, the CDC found that the Pfizer vaccine was highly effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 among children ages 12-18.
But vaccinating children is also important in stopping the spread of COVID-19 to more vulnerable populations.
As of Thursday, 59% of the state’s population had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Experts have said that between 60-80% of the population should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, which protects a population from the spread of COVID-19 once enough of them have gained immunity toward the virus.
Is It Safe?
Over 4.2 million people in Arizona have received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Thursday, with nearly 400,000 of them between the ages of 12-19, according to ADHS.
A report released last week by the CDC also found that there was no increased risk of death among the 6.4 million Americans who had been vaccinated when compared with the 4.6 million people who haven’t been vaccinated.
The findings were consistent even when accounting for factors like age, gender, race, and the type of vaccine received.
The vaccine dosage for children is also smaller than the one given to adults.
Children between 5 and 11 years old would be given two shots of a smaller, 10-microgram dose of the vaccine.
Side effects of the vaccine can include soreness and swelling at the injection site, and tiredness, headache, chills, fever, or nausea. Side effects are normal and a sign that the body is building protection against COVID-19.
There is a rare chance that the vaccine could cause a severe allergic reaction, which could include difficulty breathing, swelling of the face and throat, increased heartbeat, a rash, or dizziness. Allergic reactions typically occur a few minutes to an hour after receiving the vaccine, and individuals receiving the vaccine are typically asked to stay nearby for monitoring after receiving a dose.
In a blog post earlier this month, ADHS Interim Director Don Herrington pointed out that nearly all Arizona children ages 5 to 11 are vaccinated against diseases like measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, rubella, mumps, and polio.
“Soon, COVID-19 will become the next disease with a safe and highly effective vaccine available to children in this age group,” he wrote.
When Will They Be Available?
The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only vaccine available to children 12 and older.
Following the recommendation by the FDA advisory committee on Tuesday, the Pfizer vaccine is expected to be available for children ages 5-11 as early as next month.
According to ADHS, the CDC has advised that vaccinations for children ages 5-11 be ready after its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices meets Nov. 2-3.
Does My Kid Still Have to Wear a Mask in School if They’re Vaccinated?
The rules for mask-wearing vary across Arizona school districts.
While many districts don’t require masks, the ones that do typically won’t carve out exceptions for vaccinated students and will only make exceptions for when students are outdoors.
Health experts still recommend wearing masks as a safe and effective measure to prevent respiratory droplets and particles from infecting others and spreading COVID-19.
How Much Does It Cost to Get Vaccinated?
The COVID-19 vaccine is free to anyone who is eligible.
Where Can I Get my Child Vaccinated?
Arizona is expecting an initial allocation of 224,700 doses of the vaccine for children ages 5-11 but expects more doses—based on population—to begin arriving soon after the CDC issues its recommendation, according to Herrington with ADHS.
Arizona has more than 900 providers that are prepared to administer pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations, in addition to retail pharmacies.
Various healthcare providers and health equity partners have also continuously partnered with the state to put on vaccination events in schools and underserved communities.
Parents should be able to access appointments for their child at their local doctor’s office, pediatrician, health clinic, or pharmacy.
At least one pediatrician’s office, Pleasant Pediatrics, is allowing parents to book appointments for children ages 5-11 ahead of the full authorization from the FDA. Information about vaccination sites across Arizona can be found at azdhs.gov/FindVaccine.