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Top 5 things parents need to know about children and COVID-19 vaccination

With the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the enhanced Public Health guidelines, and the announcement that a vaccine will soon be available for children aged five to 11, many families have questions about COVID-19 vaccination for children.

Dr. Chelsey Ellis, medical microbiologist at Horizon’s The Moncton Hospital, is here to help!

Her role involves studying the measures that prevent and control the spread of illnesses caused by viruses, like COVID-19, so she understands how effective vaccines are. She is also a mother of three and she understands why parents have many questions and concerns.

Here are her Top 5 THINGS parents need to know:

1. There were no shortcuts in the scientific testing and research process.

The COVID-19 vaccines that are now available for youth and adults were developed in record time, but they underwent the same rigour, testing and approvals that all vaccines go through.

“The difference with the COVID-19 vaccines was that the timeline was fast-tracked, and no time was wasted. Globally there was a huge urgency to get vaccines approved and into peoples’ arms as soon as it was safe to do so,” Dr. Ellis said.

Dr. Ellis said new vaccines go through different stages of clinical studies, called Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 trials. These trials usually take place one after the other so researchers can secure funding for the next, but due to the urgency, the COVID-19 vaccine trials overlapped.

This same process is now playing out with the Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine trials for children aged five to 11. Phase 2 trials started before the Phase 1 trials were finished, and Phase 3 trials started before the Phase 2 trials were complete. In the end, the same large-scale trials are completed, but in a shorter time frame. There are no pauses between the phases. 

“The scientific data is thoroughly reviewed immediately as it becomes available. This information does not wait in a queue or sit on a shelf,” Dr. Ellis said. “The COVID-19 vaccine is the No. 1 priority for all those involved, along every step of the way.”

2. The dose for children 5 to 11 years is 1/3 of the adult/teen dose.

When asked if the eligible COVID-19 vaccines for youth aged 12 to 17 differ from those given to adults (age 18+), Dr. Ellis said the dosage, ingredients and administration are the same.

“For example: the dose of the Pfizer vaccine that a 43-year-old receives is the same that a 15-year-old receives,” she said.

At this time, no COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in children under the age of 12 in Canada, but trials are underway to determine if COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in children under 12 and if younger children need smaller doses.

Dr. Ellis said Pfizer-BioNTech is testing a lower dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – approximately one-third of the amount given to adults and teens – for children aged five to 11, two doses at least four weeks apart. So far, the Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials showed the lower doses in children aged five to 11 is not only safe, but just as effective at fighting off COVID-19 as the regular-dose of the vaccine in teenagers and adults.

“Until a vaccine is approved for children under 12, the best thing parents can do to protect their children is to get vaccinated themselves,” she said. “Children should be surrounded by vaccinated adults and should continue to follow Public Health guidelines.”

3. The COVID-19 vaccine is just as effective for children as it is for adults.

Dr. Ellis said in clinical trials, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were highly effective at protecting against COVID-19 for individuals aged 12 and over.

“Like adults, youth are well protected against the COVID-19 virus 14 days after their second dose,” she said. “And once fully vaccinated, those who do get infected with COVID-19 have no symptoms or mild symptoms.”

Continued monitoring of clinical trial participants is also underway to ensure the vaccines continue to work and are safe for all age groups, including children aged five to 11.

4. The side effects in children are comparable to those in adults.

“Side effects are part of the body’s natural response to a vaccine,” said Dr. Ellis. “Some people have no side effects while others may have some type of reaction.”

Common side effects for all age groups can develop in the day or two after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. They include: pain, redness or swelling where the needle was given, tiredness, muscle aches, headache, joint pain, nausea, vomiting, chills, or fever. Enlarged lymph nodes (swollen glands) in your underarm may also occur.

“Although these side effects are not serious to your health,” she said, “They may make you feel unwell for about one to three days and will go away on their own. These side effects are worth it to protect yourself from the most devastating effects of COVID-19.”

Note: Any serious side-effects or common side-effects that last longer than 72 hours after vaccination should be reported to your health care provider.

5. Being scared of needles doesn’t have to stop your child from getting vaccinated.

For some, the prospect of a needle can be terrifying.

“As a parent, we don’t want our children to suffer, but remember: we are responsible for the well-being of our children, and that includes protecting them from illness caused by vaccine-preventable diseases,” Dr. Ellis said. “The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the short-term pain and discomfort of the needle.”

Horizon can accommodate individuals with special circumstances and fears. The vaccine can be administered to the child laying down, in a private area or even in your vehicle. Please let us know when you arrive for the appointment.

Parents can also play a role in encouraging their eligible children to get vaccinated and helping them choose coping strategies to help ease the fear and pain leading up to the appointment.

First, talk to your child about the importance of vaccination, and allow them to ask questions and share their fears. Then you can work together on ideas that will help the appointment go smoothly. For example: bring a comfort item, ask questions throughout the appointment, do a deep breathing exercise and you can even distract them with a video game.

Trust reliable, factual and accurate sources

Dr. Ellis said during this incredibly challenging time with multiple sources of conflicting information circulating online, it’s important to source reliable, factual and accurate answers.

“We are accustomed to relying on experts and professionals for our taxes, building our houses, and repairing our broken teeth. The same is true when seeking information on vaccines, we must trust the reputable experts who perform the rigorous and peer-reviewed research according to strict standards and regulations,” she said. “A scientific conclusion is never drawn on the results of a single isolated study, particularly if that study was not challenged or peer-reviewed.”

Thank you, Dr. Ellis!

We all have a role to play in sharing factual COVID-19 information online.

Dr. Ellis recommends the following trusted sources for COVID-19 vaccination information:

Click here for information on Horizon’s COVID-19 vaccination clinics. *

Dr. Chelsey Ellis is a medical microbiologist at Horizon’s The Moncton Hospital. She has worked at Horizon since 2015 and holds a Bachelor of Science degree with combined honours in microbiology and biochemistry, as well as a medical degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Following her time at Dalhousie, Dr. Ellis completed a five-year residency in medical microbiology at the University of Ottawa. Born and raised in New Brunswick, Dr. Ellis lives in Greater Moncton with her husband and their three young children. Outside of work, she enjoys being outdoors, camping and gardening.