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 awaiting the opportunity to get their children vaccinated. However, while the vaccine was approved for children aged six months to five years in mid-June, some parents are reporting difficulty getting the shot at pharmacies.
The White House has released an operational plan to make the vaccine more easily accessible to children under five, and it specifically lists pharmacies among the locations where parents can take their children to get the shot. The plan notes that “thousands of local pharmacies across the country” will have the vaccine available, noting that “pharmacies will offer convenient hours and advanced programming to better meet the needs of parents and communities.”
But not all major pharmacies offer COVID vaccines to this entire age group. CVS says on its website that it will vaccinate children ages five and older, with vaccines for those 18 months and older available at its MinuteClinics (medical clinics available at select CVS stores). Walgreens also states on its website that patients “must be three years of age or older” to be vaccinated at its stores. Rite Aid also notes on its website that its pharmacists only vaccinate children ages three and older and encourages parents to contact their pediatrician to get younger children vaccinated.
This raises many questions about vaccine access for younger children—and how to actually get the vaccine for your child. Here’s what you need to know.
Why is it so hard to get a pharmacy appointment for young children?
Pediatricians say that, in general, many pharmacists — who deal primarily with adults — are simply not comfortable giving vaccines to children. “So they’re setting guidelines for a higher age limit that they’re going to offer services,” Dr. Hanna Jaworski, chief of pediatrics at Spectrum Health, tells 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 fielded several questions from parents about this. “There is enough vaccine for all these babies and toddlers, but not every pharmacy feels comfortable supplying it to them,” she explains. “Some parents may need to be more creative with how they administer the vaccine.”
How can parents make an appointment?
You have a few options if your child cannot be vaccinated at your local pharmacy. “A primary care provider is always going to be a great option,” says Jaworski. This may include your child’s pediatrician or family doctor. The government website vaccines.gov also breaks down where you can find vaccines in your area.
Your local health department should be able to point you to a provider who can also help, or may even have an upcoming clinic where you could get your child vaccinated, Fisher says. “Parents can also talk to other parents,” she adds. But when you’re not sure, talk to your pediatrician, Fisher suggests—he 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 delivers a 3-microgram dose 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 regimen with a dose of 25 micrograms. Moderna says its vaccine is 51% effective at preventing COVID-19 in children six months to under two years of age and 37% effective in children under six.
These are the most commonly reported side effects with the Moderna vaccine, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
fever and swelling in the armpit or groin/tender 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 for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the FDA:
“I’m really excited about the vaccine,” says Fisher. “It’s safe. Everyone who’s taken 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 “about 90 days” of protection from the virus after infection, but the vaccine can provide a broader form of immunity. “There’s no rush, but it’s a good idea to consider getting vaccinated three months after infection,” says Fisher. “People can get COVID more than once.”
How spread out should the plans 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, with a third dose available a month after the second dose in children who are immunocompromised.
Overall, experts say it’s a good idea to schedule your child’s COVID vaccine whenever you can. “I encourage families to go ahead and vaccinate their children,” says Fisher.
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