Key learning points
- Children from 6 months of age are now eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
- The PREP Act allows pharmacists in all 50 states to administer vaccines to children ages 3-18, although specific pharmacy chains can decide what ages they are comfortable with vaccinating.
- 23 states allow pharmacists to give vaccines to children under the age of 3.
Nearly 18 million more children are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.
Now that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved both Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old, parents and caregivers can start making vaccine appointments. But the question is: where?
Pediatricians can administer the vaccine, but making an appointment may take some time. Many parents wonder if local pharmacies offer vaccines for young children and if that environment is safe.
Whether a child can be vaccinated at a pharmacy at this time depends on their age and condition. Here’s what you need to know.
The pandemic comprehensive access to pharmacy vaccines
Historically, state law has ruled whether a pharmacist could administer vaccines. In 2009, all 50 states were on board with pharmacy vaccine programs (Maine was the last state), but only 28 states allowed pharmacists to vaccinate children.
That changed in 2020 during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the passing of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparation (PREP) Act. PREP granted pharmacies in all 50 states the ability to administer vaccines to children as young as 3 years of age without fear of liability. According to the American Pharmacists Association and the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, 27 states currently allow pharmacists to vaccinate children under the age of three.
“Pharmacy can carry the COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 5, but each chain varies in the ages they serve,” Jennifer Kaufman, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children’s Health, told Verywell via email. “Some locations can vaccinate children from the age of 18 months. Young babies will probably need to get the vaccine from a doctor.”
Are pharmacy vaccinations safe?
Pharmacists are well positioned to administer vaccinations. However, vaccinating children is a bit trickier than vaccinating adults, largely because of the reluctance and fear of vaccines among both children and parents.
The good news is that pharmacists and pharmacy assistants receive comprehensive vaccination training – as required by law – for both children and adults. It is up to the specific pharmacy chain to determine at what ages they feel comfortable vaccinating and which vaccines they administer.
Under the PREP Act, state licensed pharmacists and supervised pharmacist trainees must meet the following requirements before participating in a pharmacy-based vaccination program:
- Complete a minimum 20-hour practical training program approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) that includes hands-on injection technique, clinical evaluation of vaccine indications and contraindications, and the recognition and treatment of emergency vaccine responses
- Have a current CPR certificate
- Complete a minimum of two hours of ACPE-approved continuing pharmacy education specifically related to immunizations during each state license period
- Meet documentation and record-keeping requirements, including entering the record into the state or local vaccine registry, if available
- Inform parents of children about the importance of visiting a child with a pediatrician and provide a referral if necessary
- Administer only vaccines approved by the FDA and listed in the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) immunization schedules of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)
The benefit of going to a local pharmacy for childhood vaccinations, including the COVID-19 vaccine, is focused on convenience. Many offer evening, weekend, and walk-in appointments, which are usually not available at a doctor’s office.
“I plan to have my 3-year-old vaccinated at a pharmacy,” Sarah Thompson, a mother of two from Reno, Nevada, told Verywell. “I was able to vaccinate my oldest son while we were out shopping. It was so easy and convenient.”
Benefits of going to a pediatrician
While it is convenient to go to a pharmacy for vaccinations, there are several benefits to getting vaccinated by your local pediatrician or another doctor.
Kaufman suggests that pediatric practices are always a good option for vaccination appointments because:
- They have staff who are very experienced in vaccinating all ages including babies?
- The offices are child-friendly and offer their own space
- Pediatric practices are used to giving a wide variety of vaccines and understand the different doses depending on age
- Your pediatrician is familiar with your child’s health and medical history
“I plan to have my 1-year-old daughter vaccinated against COVID during her visit to a good child,” Steven Goldberg, a father in Northern California, told Verywell. “We have a great relationship with her pediatrician and she feels comfortable there.”
Not all pediatricians are enthusiastic about the idea of pharmacies vaccinating their young patients. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks it’s a misconception to allow pharmacists to administer vaccines to children.
“This unprecedented expansion in the ability of pharmacies to administer vaccines to children does not address the vaccine hesitancy that is driving down the number of childhood vaccinations in the U.S.,” said AAP president Sally Goza, MD, FAAP, in a statement. a press release. “Many parents have questions about their children’s vaccines and pediatricians are ready to talk to them. It’s what we do every day, one-on-one with thousands of parents, as part of the long-standing trusting relationship that families have with their doctors.”
For people living in rural communities, pharmacy-based vaccinations may not be available, so office-based immunizations by a primary care physician may be the only option.
Do pediatricians have enough supply?
To prepare for FDA approval for emergency use, the Biden administration has prepared 10 million doses of early childhood vaccines for pre-order for states, pediatricians, tribes, territories, community health centers and federal pharmacy partners. However, the way vaccination doses are packaged this time around may make some pediatricians hesitant to carry it.
The COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5 comes in vials containing 10 doses each, meaning that when one dose is given, another nine children must receive a dose within 12 hours or else the vial will be lost. This can be a real challenge for a doctor’s office, which may not need to vaccinate so many children for COVID in one day.
If you hope to have your child vaccinated by their pediatrician, call ahead to make sure the vaccine is in stock.
Most parents have a choice
The bottom line is that parents have choices when it comes to where to vaccinate their young children against COVID-19.
If you plan to have your child vaccinated at a local pharmacy, call and ask if they administer vaccinations to small children. Most states have set up websites for online appointments.
It is important to stay current on all childhood vaccines, especially for the upcoming school year. If you choose to have your child vaccinated against COVID-19 with the pediatrician, ask if they require additional vaccinations so that a subsequent visit is not necessary.
What this means for you?
Parents can decide whether to have their child vaccinated at a pharmacy or at a doctor’s office. While pharmacies offer convenient opening hours and walk-in appointments, not every state allows pharmacies to vaccinate young children. The pediatric practice is a familiar space, with experienced staff who understand your child’s health and medical history. Call your local pharmacy ahead of time to see if vaccinations should be administered to young children.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available as you read this. For the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit our coronavirus news page.