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TFK Explains: COVID-19 Vaccine for Kids

KID-SIZE A dose of the COVID vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 is smaller than a dose for older people. PFIZER/AP

On November 2, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. This vaccine helps protect against COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine works to boost the body’s immunity to COVID-19. It uses something called mRNA technology. The m is for messenger. The vaccine teaches cells in your body how to attack the virus that causes COVID-19.

Will children get the same dose that adults and people ages 12 to 17 get?

No. The dose for kids ages 5 to 11 is smaller. But to be fully vaccinated, anyone who gets the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine needs two doses, given three weeks apart.

Are the vaccine side effects for kids ages 5 to 11 similar to those that other age groups might experience?

So far, yes. Some people who get the vaccine might experience fever, chills, and headache. They might also feel tired and have muscle pain. These might be signs that your immune system is working. They could last one to three days after the shot. In very rare cases, people get more-serious side effects that involve the heart. Some people experience no side effects.

Do I need to wear a mask if I’m fully vaccinated?

The CDC recommends that people who are vaccinated wear a mask indoors in places where COVID-19 is spreading at a high rate. At press time, that was the case in 73% of the U.S. The CDC also says people should follow masking rules set by state and local governments.

Don’t children have a lower risk of getting a serious case of COVID-19 than adults?

Yes. But unvaccinated children can still spread the virus to people who are at greater risk for severe illness. Plus, the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus is sending more children to the hospital than early forms of the virus did.

Why did it take so long for kids ages 5 to 11 to be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed the scientific data to make sure the vaccine was safe and effective for kids in this age group. Once the FDA gave its authorization for emergency use, on October 29, the CDC had to review the FDA decision.

Will vaccinating kids help control the pandemic?

Yes. There are 28 million kids in the U.S. ages 5 to 11. The government says it has enough vaccine for everyone in this age group. This will help stop the spread of the disease.

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