The first thing you need to know about the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine that received FDA approval for kids ages 5 to 11 is that it’s available right now through the Detroit Health Department at two locations. Parents and caregivers can call 313-230-0505 to schedule an appointment at either the Detroit Health Department at 100 Mack Ave. or the Northwest Activities Center at 18100 Meyers Road, both in Detroit.
“We know these vaccines are highly effective and now we have the ability to protect the children in our community from COVID-19,” says Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair Razo. “We have set up two vaccination sites specifically for children ages 5 to 11 and will partner with schools across the city to provide all Detroiters with equitable access to these life-saving vaccines, especially children who are in school every day.”
You may have questions, so we share expert information from Robert Dunne, M.D., acting medical director for the Detroit Health Department and public safety medical director for the City of Detroit, and Carla Watson, M.D., pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
Here are some important takeaways about the COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11.
Kids are at risk for COVID-19 and the vaccine can protect them
You may hear that children who get COVID-19 don’t get as sick as adults do, but that doesn’t mean they are safe from illness, says Dr. Watson. “We know COVID-19 may not affect children in the same way it affects adults, but the risks of complications from COVID-19 clearly outweigh the risk parents are concerned about with the vaccine,” she says. “The greatest risk is death.”
Some children have experienced very severe symptoms with COVID-19. “We have seen some cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which is very severe,” Dr. Watson explains. “This often requires hospitalization and ICU admission and kids have had failure of multiple organs. Fortunately, if they seek care and they are in that setting, they do well, but we know that this is life-threatening.”
The vaccine is safe and effective for 5 to 11 year olds
The experts say this vaccine is safe and effective for kids ages 5 to 11.
“A number of clinical trials in the U.S. and other parts of the world looked at various age groups, and one of the reasons the vaccine didn’t get authorized for children until now is because they wanted to be sure the trials showed it was both effective and safe,” says Dr. Dunne.
“The sample size used was large and it was a randomized placebo-controlled study, which is very efficient and robust and something we use when we study other vaccines,” Dr. Watson adds.
The dose for 5 to 11 year olds is lower
“This lower-dose version is optimized for the 5 to 11 age group,” says Dr. Dunne. “It is about one-third of the medication as the adult or older-child dose, and it got an excellent immune reaction in 5 to 11 year olds.” Kids who turn 12 between their two shots should receive the same vaccine dose as their first shot, Dr. Watson says.
Mild reactions to the vaccine can occur
Adults and older children who have been vaccinated know that side effects can include a sore arm, low-grade fever, chills and aches that can last a day or two. “This is a good sign that your body is producing a response that we expect,” says Dr. Watson. “It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.” An ice pack can relieve arm soreness, and fever-reducing medications can be given by parents, if needed, she says.
Vaccine complications are rare
While there have been reports of myocarditis and pericarditis — heart-related inflammation in some people following the COVID vaccine — this has not been reported in the 5 to 11 age group, says Dr. Dunne.
“In the studies of the 5 to 11 age group, there weren’t any cases of myocarditis, though there were some in the older age group,” he says. “When we are looking at side effects, we compare people who got the vaccine to those who didn’t get the vaccine and that group also has a fairly high incidence of various inflammatory conditions, which is what myocarditis and pericarditis are.”
Dr. Dunne says the side effects in the adolescent group were limited and easily treated. “What we know about getting COVID-19 is that it’s much worse than any of the side effects that are noted with any of the vaccines in any age group,” he says. “We see people ending up in the hospital routinely from COVID-19, and when we look at people with vaccine-related complications, we are not seeing hospitals full with people with vaccine-related complications — particularly with the heart and lung effects of COVID-19, which can be long lasting, and are much worse than anything seen with the vaccine.”
Kids with underlying medical conditions should get vaccinated
Children with diabetes, allergies and asthma are great candidates for the vaccine, Dr. Watson says. “Having those underlying medical issues puts these kids at increased risk for complications if they are exposed to COVID, so those patients we really want to get the vaccine,” she says, adding that her own 5-year-old son has asthma and several food allergies and she plans to get him vaccinated.
“If your child has allergies, as a parent you want to be cautious, but that should not keep you from getting the vaccine,” she says. “They could have an allergic reaction, but that’s the case with any other vaccine or medications that children take.”
Be honest with your child
“Kids are good at sniffing out when you aren’t telling it like it is,” says Dr. Dunne, whose experience includes treating children in emergency room situations. “Be honest that it will hurt a little bit.”
To ease fears, appointments for this age group are scheduled with plenty of time and space at the long-standing Detroit Health Department immunization clinic. “We have individual exam rooms set up for individual pediatric immunizations and that’s where we are giving the COVID vaccines,” Dr. Dunne says. “Since we expect a lot of demand, we have an additional site at the Northwest Activity Center, which is also really well set up.”
At either site, specially trained pediatric nurses will give the vaccines in a quiet, comfortable environment.
If your child is sick, talk with your doctor first
The only reason to delay vaccination is if your child is sick. “If you have a persistent symptom, fever that doesn’t go away, a cough that doesn’t go away, you need to talk to your doctor,” Dr. Dunne says.
Community immunity is vitally important
When everyone in the community — kids, adults and grandparents — are immunized against COVID-19, we are all better protected from pockets of infections cropping up, Dr. Dunne says. This is something that public health experts know from previous infectious diseases, like measles.
“You will hear reports saying that we have 80% of the population over age 75 immunized, but that doesn’t do us any good if only 20% of people under age 20 are immunized,” Dr. Dunne says. “The whole community needs to get to that threshold of 70% or more.”
Dr. Watson agrees, adding that individuals in the community who cannot get vaccinated can only be protected from disease if the majority of us get the vaccine. “They are your relatives, your church members, your pastor. They are all over,” she says.
Get your questions answered
There are reputable resources available at the Detroit Health Department to answer any questions you have about the vaccine.
“Talk to your doctor. If you don’t have a doctor or haven’t been able to have a conversation, reach out to the Detroit Health Department. It’s here to provide a credible source of information,” Dr. Dunne says.
The Detroit Health Department’s nurse line (313-876-4000, option 3) is staffed with nurses who can answer questions and point you to good information. “We all know there is bad information out there and there was bad information out there long before the internet, so look for that credible source of information. We can help you understand what is, in some ways, a complicated, fast-moving issue with the pandemic.”
The Detroit Health Department is now offering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11. Appointments are available at these locations:
- The Detroit Health Department Immunization Clinic, 100 Mack Ave. (Monday-Friday, 4-8 p.m.)
- Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers Road (Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Call 313-230-0505 to make a vaccine appointment for all ages and specifically for your 5- to 11- year-old children.
For questions regarding the vaccine, call the Detroit Health Department nurse line at 313-876-4000 and select option 3.
The Detroit Health Department is also partnering with DPSCD, private and charter schools to provide school-based vaccine events. Learn more at detroitmi.gov/health.