Widespread COVID-19 vaccination is key to getting through this pandemic.
While practices like mask-wearing and social distancing are critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19, widespread vaccination will be a critical part of our response.
Currently there are 3 vaccines in the US with emergency use authorization (EUA). All have excellent safety and efficacy data at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines utilize new mRNA technology and were authorized in December, 2020. A 3rd vaccine, by Johnson & Johnson, received FDA EUA February, 2021. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for ages 12 and up while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are for ages 18 and up.
Currently all people 12 years old and up are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Go to the Vaccine Finder Tool to schedule your vaccine. Our office is not currently offering the COVID-19 vaccine.
Please update the office with the dates of your child’s COVID vaccine. You can message us securely through the Patient Portal and even upload a copy of the vaccination card.
1) Why is vaccinating children and adolescents against COVID-19 important?
To date, over 3.8 million US children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. Children now account for more than 22% of new cases in the US. Children rarely develop severe illness or death from COVID infection. Some children who’ve experienced even mild infections can later develop a sometimes deadly condition called multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). There have been over 300 pediatric COVID related deaths in the US since the start of the pandemic. Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh has had over 200 admissions related to COVID, including many in the ICU.
Evidence is building that COVID vaccines may block transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so vaccinating children could have significant beneficial effects in preventing spread in the wider community. This is even more important as new variants are becoming more common in the US. Vaccinating children and adolescents will get us all closer to normalcy.
2) What is the current status of pediatric testing for COVID-19 vaccines?
Studies are now ongoing for children down to the age of 6 months. The FDA has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for ages 12 and up and continues to monitor safety and efficacy. Preliminary data released in March demonstrated that none of the 2,260 fully vaccinated adolescent volunteers (ages 12 to 15) developed COVID-19 compared with 18 among those given dummy (placebo) shots.
Based on the current pace of research, we will have a vaccine for many age groups of children and adolescents before the 2021-22 school year begins. We will keep you posted as more data is published.
3) What is an mRNA vaccine?
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. mRNA vaccines are a new type of vaccine to protect against infectious diseases. In order to trigger an immune response, many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies. mRNA vaccines, instead, teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the virus enters our bodies.
mRNA vaccines do not contain the live virus that causes COVID-19 and, therefore, cannot give someone COVID-19. Additionally, mRNA vaccines do not interact with a person’s DNA because the mRNA does not enter the nucleus of the cell. Cells break down the mRNA quickly.
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94.1% effective in preventing symptomatic illness, respectively. Those tests were before the new, more contagious variants emerged. Recent data indicates that they remain highly effective against most known variants.
4) What is the difference between the various vaccines?
Unlike the mRNA technology of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses an inactivated virus vector, adenovirus (the common cold), and contains a piece of DNA that instructs the body to make the COVID-19 spike protein. This triggers an immune system response, giving you protection should you ever be exposed to the real virus. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe/critical illness and 66% effective in preventing symptomatic illness 28 days following vaccination. Most importantly, it was 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose compared to the required 2 doses for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
You cannot get COVID-19 or a cold from any of the authorized vaccines, because they do not contain live virus.
It is hard to compare the efficacy data between the different vaccines because they have been tested during different time frames, which may not account for the spread of virus variants. Currently, the recommendation is that people get whichever vaccine is available to them at the time they are eligible. All 3 authorized vaccines are highly effective in preventing the most serious cases of COVID-19.
5) Should I get the COVID vaccine if I am pregnant?
Currently, available data demonstrate that pregnant individuals are at increased risk of more severe illness and death due to COVID-19 than their non-pregnant counterparts. Providing pregnant individuals with the opportunity to be vaccinated can be critical to allowing them to protect themselves, particularly if their occupation puts them at increased risk of contracting the virus or if they have underlying and comorbid conditions. Pregnant women should discuss their personal risk and choices with their OB/GYN. Pregnant women are currently eligible to get vaccinated in PA.
There are limited data about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for people who are pregnant. Until findings are available from clinical trials and additional studies, only limited data are available on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, including mRNA vaccines, administered during pregnancy:
- Limited data are currently available from animal developmental and reproductive toxicity studies. No safety concerns were demonstrated in rats that received Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before or during pregnancy; studies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are ongoing.
- Researchers have studies planned in people who are pregnant.
- Both vaccine manufacturers are monitoring people in the clinical trials who became pregnant.
- CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have safety monitoring systems in place to capture information about vaccination during pregnancy and will closely monitor reports.
Based on how mRNA vaccines work, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant. However, the actual risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and her fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant women.
6) Should I get the COVID vaccine if I am breastfeeding?
There are neither data on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in lactating women nor on the effects of mRNA vaccines on the breastfed infant or on milk production/excretion. mRNA vaccines are not thought to be a risk to the breastfeeding infant. People who are breastfeeding and are part of a group recommended to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, such as healthcare personnel, may choose to be vaccinated. We recommend discussing this with one of our providers at your visit to help you make a personal choice.
7) What are the side effects of the COVID vaccine?
Severe or life-threatening reactions to the COVID vaccine are very rare. Over 245 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the United States between December and early May.
A small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction (“anaphylaxis”) after vaccination, but this is very rare. Anaphylaxis can occur after any vaccination. If this occurs, vaccination sites are equipped to effectively and immediately treat the reaction.
After receiving the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine, there is risk for a rare but serious adverse event—blood clots with low platelets (thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS). Women younger than 50 years old should especially be aware of their increased risk for this rare adverse event. There are other COVID-19 vaccines available (Pfizer and Moderna) for which this risk has not been seen. This adverse event is rare, occurring at a rate of about 7 per 1 million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old. For women 50 years and older and men of all ages, this adverse event is even more rare.
Common Side Effects of the COVID Vaccine include:
- Pain, redness, or swelling of the arm where you received the shot
- Muscle aches
Side effects after your second shot may be more intense than the ones you experienced after your first shot. These side effects are normal signs that your body is building protection and should go away within a few days.
Treating Side Effects of the COVID Vaccine:
- To reduce pain or discomfort at the site of the shot
- Apply a cool wet washcloth to the area
- Use or exercise the arm
- To reduce fever or muscle aches
- Drink plenty of fluids
- You can take over-the-counter medications (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) according to the package directions as long as there is no other medical reason for you not to take them
Call the office if:
- If the redness or tenderness where you got the shot gets worse after 24 hours
- If your side effects are worrying you or do not seem to be going away after a few days