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COVID 19 Vaccine Is Now Available for Children 5 to 11

Image of 5-year-old girl in mask reads a book by herself. Click to open a larger version of the image. Karina Melendez, 5, reads a book in the reading corner of a Fort Bliss Child Development Center, Aug. 10, 2020. Now, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5 through11 year olds has been authorized and is being offered to protect this age group against COVID-19.

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The Military Health System is poised to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to children ages 5 through 11 years following issuance of an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to Pfizer-BioNTech for its COVID-19 vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The move will boost the military community's defenses against a possible surge of COVID-19 as winter approaches and ease the worries of parents weary of the pandemic and its effects on children and their schooling.

"This will help protect the whole family and slow the spread of COVID-19 in your community and household," said Amy Swarthout-Ebarb, a clinical nurse educator for the Defense Health Agency's Immunization Healthcare Division (DHA-IHD) in San Antonio, Texas.

"For families, parents and older siblings have received the vaccine. The younger ones are just waiting," she said.

The new pediatric vaccine is important "because children 5-11 can still transmit the COVID-19 virus, potentially affecting those who are not vaccinated and are at risk," Swarthout-Ebarb said.

There are nearly 1 million children 5 through11 years of age who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from the Defense Department, according to Air Force Col. (Dr.) Tonya Rans, chief of the DHA-IHD.

On Nov. 2, Pfizer-BioNTech's 5 through 11 year old COVID-19 vaccine product was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a safe and effective option for children.

There is no Defense Department requirement for children within the Military Health System to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Military health officials are encouraging parents to talk with their health care providers about any questions or concerns they may have about this vaccine.

"The providers are the best people to give advice to parents," said Dr. David Hrncir, medical director, Central Vaccine Safety Hub, DHA-IHD.

"Pediatricians are good at this and will present the COVID-19 vaccine as just another vaccine" that children should take, he said.

Medical experts say the benefits of administering the vaccine to children to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the possible increased risk of the rare side effect called myocarditis, or an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Five to 11 year-olds rarely report problems with vaccines, Hrncir said.

Pediatric doses

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose for children is one-third smaller than the adult version, at 10 mcg versus the 30 mcg dose for those 12 years and older. The vaccine for children is given as two doses three weeks apart, a two-step sequence similar to the adult version.

Pfizer studied approximately 3,100 children ages 5 to 11 in clinical trials. The 10 mcg dose was carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity in children 5 to 11 years of age, according to the company.

The vaccines are also packaged differently to help differentiate the adult doses from the pediatric version.

The vaccine intended for people ages 12 and up has a purple or gray cap and label for adults and adolescents. To distinguish between the vaccines, the pediatric version, for children ages 5 through 11 years, has an orange label and cap.

For now, Pfizer-BioNTech offers the only FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine for those 5 through 11 years. Other pharmaceutical companies may seek approval for this age group in the future.

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