Children under the age of five were the last group in the US to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving many parents anxiously waiting for the chance to give their children the injections. But although the vaccine was approved in mid-June for children between the ages of six months and five years, some parents report that it is difficult to get the vaccine from pharmacies.
The White House has issued an operational plan to make the vaccine more easily accessible to children under the age of five, and specifically lists pharmacies among the locations where parents can take their children to get the injection. The plan notes that “thousands of local pharmacies across the country” will have the vaccine available, noting that “pharmacies will provide appropriate opening hours and advanced scheduling to best meet the needs of parents and communities.”
But not every major pharmacy offers COVID vaccines to this entire age group. CVS says on its website that it will give shots to children ages five and older, with shots for those 18 months and older available at the MinuteClinics (medical clinics available at select CVS stores). Walgreens also says on its website that patients must be “three years or older” to be vaccinated in their stores. Rite Aid also notes on its website that its pharmacists only vaccinate children three years and older, and encourages parents to check with their pediatrician about getting younger children vaccinated.
This raises many questions about access to vaccines for younger children — and how to actually get the shot for your child. Here’s what you need to know.
Why is it so difficult to make an appointment at the pharmacy for young children?
Pediatricians say that, in general, many pharmacists—who deal primarily with adults—just don’t feel comfortable giving children injections. “As such, they are setting guidelines for a higher age limit for which they will offer services,” says Dr. Hanna Jaworski, chief of pediatrics at Spectrum Health, told Yahoo Life.
dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Life that her office has answered several questions from parents about this. “There is enough vaccine for all these babies and toddlers, but not every pharmacy feels comfortable delivering it to them,” she explains. “Some parents may need to be more resourceful with how they get the vaccine.”
How can parents get an appointment?
You have a few options if your child is unable to get vaccinated at your local pharmacy. “A primary care provider will always be a good option,” says Jaworski. This can be your child’s pediatrician or your GP. The government website vaccins.gov also lists where to find vaccines in your area.
Your local health department should be able to refer you to a health care provider who can help you as well, or maybe even have an upcoming clinic where you can get your child vaccinated, Fisher says. “Parents can also talk to other parents,” she adds. But if you’re not sure, talk to your pediatrician, Fisher suggests — they should be able to help.
How safe is the vaccine in young children?
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the US for children under the age of five – from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Pfizer’s vaccine is a three-dose regimen and provides a dose of 3 micrograms of the vaccine for each. The vaccine was found to be 80.3% effective in preventing COVID-19 during the Omicron wave, according to Pfizer.
Moderna’s vaccine is a two-dose schedule with a dose of 25 micrograms. Moderna says the vaccine is 51% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children aged six months to under two years, and 37% in children under six.
These are the most commonly reported side effects of the Moderna vaccine, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
fever and swelling/tenderness of the lymph nodes in the same arm (or thigh) as the injection
Younger babies (six months to 36 months) had the following symptoms:
loss of appetite
These were the most commonly reported side effects of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the FDA:
“I’m very excited about the vaccine,” Fisher says. “It’s safe. Everyone who’s gotten it so far has done really well.” Jaworski says the vaccines are “very effective” at preventing serious illness and hospitalization in this age group and are “very safe”.
Also, keep in mind that you should consider the vaccine for your child, even if they already had COVID-19. Fisher notes that your child will have protection against the virus “about 90 days” after infection, but the vaccine can provide a broader form of immunity. “You’re not in a rush, but it’s a good idea to think about getting vaccinated three months after the infection,” Fisher says. “People can get COVID more than once.”
How spread out should the shots be for children?
Every COVID vaccine is a little different. The Pfizer vaccine is given as two initial doses three weeks apart, followed by a third dose eight weeks after the second dose, the FDA explains. The Moderna vaccine is given one month apart, the FDA says, and a third dose is available one month after the second dose in children who are immunocompromised.
In general, experts say it’s a good idea to get your child an appointment for a COVID vaccine as often as possible. “I encourage families to go ahead and get their children vaccinated,” Fisher says.
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