COVID-19 vaccines for our youngest children

Child receiving a vaccine from doctor

Children 6 months through 4 years old can now receive COVID-19 vaccines at Dartmouth Health. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently authorized COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use in this youngest age group.

“In the United States, there are 19 million children who are 6 months to 4 years old who have not yet had access to this vaccine—this is a moment we have been waiting for,” says Susanne E. Tanski, MD, MPH, section chief, General Pediatrics at Dartmouth Health Children’s. “The vaccines from Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna for our youngest children show an equal amount of immune response against COVID-19, as seen in our older children, teens and adults. COVID-19 vaccines for young children are safe and effective.”

While the vaccines cannot prevent all cases of COVID-19, studies show they reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death. Reinfection with new strains of COVID-19 is common, and each illness can affect a person differently.

Tanksi reports that 5 times more children under age 5 were hospitalized during last winter’s Omicron surge than during the earlier Delta wave. Sadly, 202 children younger than 5 have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

Natural infection compared to vaccination

Becoming infected with a disease carries the risk of side effects that can range from mild to severe. For example, chicken pox can cause pneumonia, congenital disabilities can result from rubella infection and measles can cause death. COVID-19 is no different: infection can lead to hospitalization, multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), post-COVID-19 symptoms and death.

There is growing evidence that some children infected with COVID-19 suffer from ongoing respiratory disease, fatigue and stomach problems for weeks to months (post-COVID-19). In children older than 5, hospitalization rates are 1½ to 2 times higher among unvaccinated children compared to vaccinated ones. Only half of children in the hospital had underlying medical conditions.

It’s important to receive COVID-19 vaccination even if your child has had COVID-19. Studies show that people who had COVID-19 and are also vaccinated have better protection than if they had COVID-19 with no vaccination. Also, getting COVID-19 again happens more often to people who are not vaccinated, than to those who are vaccinated and get COVID-19.

“The surest way to protect children and our communities from the harmful effects of COVID-19 is to get the vaccine,” Tanski says. “The benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks of the vaccine—or of getting COVID-19.”

Vaccine facts

The vaccine dosage for this age group is very small: Pfizer BioNTech’s is 1/10 of the adult dose and Moderna’s is 1/4. The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine requires 3 doses (2 doses at least 3 weeks apart and another dose 8 weeks after). The Moderna vaccine is 2 doses given 4 weeks apart.

Possible vaccine side effects include: pain where the shot was given, fussiness, fatigue and fever—but not all children will have these symptoms. Also important to know is that there have been no cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) during the vaccine trial for this age group, or evidence that the vaccine affects development or fertility.

To schedule your child’s COVID-19 vaccination, use your myDH account or call the COVID-19 hotline at 603-650-1818, Mondays through Fridays, 7 am to 5 pm, and Saturdays, 8 am to 12 pm.

To learn more, view Tanski’s video message. Visit Dartmouth Health online
for the latest COVID-19 information.