An epidemiologist answers questions about vaccinating the youngest

To read this story in Spanish, click here.

As early as next week, parents and caregivers may be able to get their youngest children vaccinated against COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee is meeting tomorrow, June 15, to review applications for emergency use for Moderna and Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccines. Moderna’s application is for vaccinating kids ages 6 months through 5 years, and Pfizer’s is for kids ages 6 months through 4 years.

photo of Dr. Kim Bonner
Dr. Kim Bonner

We talked with Dr. Kim Bonner, epidemic intelligence service officer for acute and communicable disease prevention with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about questions parents are asking about the vaccine.

Q: Young children don’t seem to get very sick from COVID-19, so why vaccinate them?

Dr. Bonner: “Children can get very sick from COVID-19 and they can have both short- and long-term health problems. The vaccine is an important tool to protect them from the virus. It prevents kids from getting very sick and from spreading it others, both at home, in school and at day care. There’s really no way to detect how children will react if they do get COVID-19. But we do know that almost all children younger than 18 that were hospitalized had no underlying conditions. Based on that, we really would recommend parents vaccinate their children.”

Q: Where is the best place to get your child vaccinated?

Dr. Bonner: “Check with your children’s health care provider or local pharmacy. (Pharmacies do not vaccinate children under age 3, and some do not vaccinate children under age 7.) You can also find a vaccination clinic or pharmacy location near you using the Get Vaccinated Oregon locator tool. One option to consider is getting the vaccination at the same time your child receives other childhood vaccines. But really, it’s whatever is best for the child and family. COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge to everyone in the United States regardless of immigration or health care insurance status.”

a child receiving a vaccine

Q: How can parents handle their own anxiety?

Dr. Bonner: “There are a number of ways you can find support before, during and after the vaccine. Research websites for parents. Reach out to your child’s health care provider. Two ways to minimize your own anxiety is by being prepared to support your child and by going into a vaccination situation equipped.”

Tips for handling vaccine anxiety

  • If your child is age 2 or younger, ask your child’s health care provider to give them a sweet solution – usually glucose or sucrose – a minute or two before the shot. Something sweet can help reduce the pain response.
  • Breast feeding can calm or relax the child and has some sweetness to reduce pain.
  • Ask for a pain-relieving ointment. The ointment can block pain signals, but it takes a little time to work, so ask in advance. The cooling spray can be given right before.
  • Be honest and calm. We know kids are smart so take the time to explain what is happening and what to expect. For example, that they will feel a pinch, but it will go away fast. Use helpful words like pressure or poke rather than pain or shot. A calm voice can be reassuring even for babies.
  • Bring something that a child finds comforting – a favorite toy or book to help them focus on something pleasant. That can be a helpful way to soothe. Right before the shot, consider ways to distract the child. Tell a story, sing a song, act silly. Pull the child’s attention away from the person giving the shot.
  • Bigger kids need support, too. Take deep breaths with them and have them imagine the pain is leaving their mouth as they breathe out. You can have them do it while they’re getting the shot. After the shot, be calm and comfort them. You can hug older kids, and swaddle older babies. Hold your child close, soothe them so they know they are safe and loved.

Q:  What about side effects or reactions?

Dr. Bonner: “In general, sometimes kids experience mild side effects. In the 5-11 age group, side effects are mild or brief and may include headache, fever, or pain in the arm. You can take a cool, damp cloth and put it over top of the place where the shot was given. If the child’s temperature is elevated, you can give them a lukewarm sponge bath. Ask your doctor if you can give a non-aspirin pain reliever. It’s normal if they eat less, but make sure they stay hydrated. If you see something that concerns you, call your child’s health care provider. It’s also a good idea to read up on the information sheet that you receive from your provider.”