Child COVID vaccine: What are the long-term effects? Is it safe?

Dr. Frank McGeorge answers COVID questions

Local 4's Dr. Frank McGeorge is answering viewer-submitted questions about Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 years old.

DETROIT – Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Dr. Frank McGeorge has been keeping viewers up-to-date and informed on all fronts. He’s been answering your questions about the vaccine, the vaccination process and more.

This time, Dr. McGeorge is answering viewer questions about Pfizer’s recently-authorized pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, meant for children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old.

Read: More answers to questions about coronavirus

My daughter will be 12 in 4 months. Is the smaller dose appropriate for her? Should I wait until she is 12 so she can get the full dose? Are children being given boosters at age 12 if they received the pediatric dose?

The smaller dose is completely appropriate. It really is a good balance between providing protection wile minimizing the side effects.

As for boosters, there has not yet been any research or decision regarding boosters for children ages 5 to 11.

I have a son who is turning 12 in less than a year. Should I wait for the vaccine approved for children 12 and up? Or should I get him the pediatric vaccine now?

I would suggest your son gets the pediatric dose right away.

In the clinical trials, 11-year-olds developed just as much protection from the lower pediatric dose as 12-year-olds did with the higher dose -- but likely with a lower risk of side effects.

Delaying the vaccine won’t increase your son’s protection, but it would delay him from being protected.

My 10-year-old son is 5 feet and 5 inches tall and weights 160 pounds. His cousin, who has been vaccinated, is 13 years old, stands at 5 feet and 1 inch tall and weighs around 95 pounds. Will my son be able to get the full benefits of a child’s vaccine when he is bigger than most?

The size and weight of a person are less important for a vaccine than they are for medication. The reason: For a medication to work, it has to be distributed throughout the body and reach a certain level or concentration in the area where it’s effective.

Vaccines stimulate the immune system from the location they’re given, and don’t need to be distributed throughout the body to be effective.

When it comes to vaccines, the more important factor ends up being the quality of the person’s immune response -- and younger children generally have more vigorous immune systems.

Do the vaccines need to be administered in the arm? Our kids receive vaccines in their thighs because their arms are very tiny. Does the location matter for the pediatric vaccine?

The pediatric COVID vaccine can be administered in the thigh -- but I would discuss that with the person administering the shot. Keep in mind that with the pediatric vaccine, the volume of the shot is smaller, and so is the needle.

Generally, the deltoid muscle of the arm is preferred.

What are the long-term effects of these shots for children?

The honest answer: We don’t know because this is a new vaccine. However, we have no scientific reason to suspect any adverse long-term effects.

Remember, we also don’t know the long-term risks of being infected with COVID, either.

Were the trials in kids ages 5-11 years old large enough to account for the risk of myocarditis?

Unfortunately, clinical trials are never large enough to detect rare side effects. Those effects generally don’t show up until after a vaccine or a drug has been given to literally millions of people.

That’s why there are safety systems in place to continue monitoring for side effects after any drug or vaccine is authorized or approved for the public.

Because this age group is receiving a much lower dose and the risk of myocarditis in general is lower in children under 11 years old compared to teenagers, experts believe that the risk of myocarditis from the vaccine may be lower, as well. But we won’t know that until far more children have received the vaccine.

How safe is the vaccine? There hasn’t been enough study on it for kids. It is a tough decision.

I completely agree that it is a difficult decision, and you are correct. So far, the vaccine has only been evaluated in a few thousand children.

However, the fact is that the data from that study does not suggest any safety concern for those receiving vaccines.

It is also important to factor in the known risks of COVID -- which are lower in kids, but can still be significant.

Read: Complete Michigan COVID coverage

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About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.