Should your child get a COVID vaccine? Santa Clara County officials answer FAQs

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After years of anxiously awaiting their turn, parents can now give their infants the COVID-19 vaccine — but many questions remain about getting the jab.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week approved vaccinations for children ages six months to 5 years old, but some parents remain unsure. Questions range from side effects to whether all children six months to age 5 need to be vaccinated, or just those facing chronic illnesses.

We spoke to officials at the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and Dr. Nadereh Varamini, a pediatrician with Pediatric Associates at Stanford Children’s Health, to answer some of the most frequently asked questions. 

Varamini said not giving young children the jab can lead to hospitalization or death. She added that side effects from studies of thousands of children age 5 and under have been extremely rare and very mild. 

How can COVID-19 affect young children?

The county, which started administering the vaccines to children under age 5 on June 21, said this age group had the highest rate of hospitalizations compared to other pediatric groups and one in four of those hospitalized children ended up in the ICU. Nationwide, 442 children in this age group died through June 2. That is more deaths than were caused by any other vaccine-preventable disease among children, officials said. They also said long COVID does occur among children and vaccines reduce the occurrence of long COVID by 15-50%.

How many young children have gotten COVID-19 nationally?

There have been more than two million cases of COVID-19 nationally in children ages six months to age 4 from March 2020 to April 2022. More than half of the 20,000 hospitalizations of children in this age group were healthy without underlying conditions.

How many young children have gotten COVID-19 in Santa Clara County?

According to county officials, there have been 16,653 cases in children under age 5 through June 27.

How many children under the age of 5 have been vaccinated for COVID 19 in Santa Clara County?

According to county officials,  3,106 children have received the vaccine to date at county sites.

Do the risks of COVID outweigh possible side effects of the vaccine for ages 6 months to 5 years old?

While COVID-19 infection tends to be milder in children, county officials said in some situations, children can experience severe complications, including death.

What COVID vaccines are available for children in this age group?

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both available for children under age 5 in Santa Clara County. 

Are the vaccines full doses? Are boosters needed?

The county said the vaccines are specially formulated for the younger age group with lower doses. Two doses are required for Moderna and three for Pfizer. There are no booster shots for this age group at this time.

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Is one vaccine better than another for young children? What level of protection do they offer?

County health leaders said both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are “very effective” and offer high levels of protection against serious illness or death. Varamini said vaccines provide better protection and longer immunization against COVID-19 and cover more COVID-19 variants, including the omicron variant.

The Pfizer vaccine is about 75% effective at preventing infection from the omicron variant in children 6 months to 2 years old. It is 82% effective in children 2 to 4 years old. For children ages 6 months to 2 years old, the Moderna vaccine is about 51% effective, and for ages 2 to 5 years old, about 37% effective.

Is the vaccine recommended for all children or just those with chronic medical conditions?

Both the county and Varamini recommend all children get vaccinated.

What are the side effects for this age group?

Varamini said side effects under age 3 are sleepiness and not eating, mild redness at injection site, fever, muscle ache and mild nausea. The county said minimal side effects were found in the clinical trials, with the most common being irritability and drowsiness in the youngest recipients (under 2 years) and pain at the injection site and fatigue for the older group.

Where can children under age 5 be vaccinated?

Children under age 5 can be vaccinated by health care providers, at county mass vaccination sites and participating pharmacies. Vaccinations for younger children may not be available at all participating pharmacies. Families can make appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations here. 

Children can also be vaccinated at drop-in clinics.

What percentage of children have had COVID-19?

Santa Clara County has approximately 100,000 residents under age 5. Approximately 16.6% have had COVID-19, according to the county.

Both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend COVID-19 vaccines for young children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as six months.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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