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  • Children under age 5 now have access to COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Experts say both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines offer important protection.
  • The Biden administration said they have procured at least 10 million doses for this age group.

Following the publication of documents supporting the three-dose Pfizer/BioNTech and two-shot Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for these drugs in children from 6 months to 5 years old.

Last weekend the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced they are recommending this age group get the COVID-19 vaccine, clearing the way for vaccinations to start this week.

“Both COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than 5 years of age have been shown to be very safe and effective in preventing severe disease that can result in hospitalization and death in young children,” Alex Li, MD, pediatrician and Deputy Chief Medical Officer, L.A. Care Health Plan – the largest publicly operated health plan in the country, told Healthline.

However, each drugmaker used a different approach when deciding how to formulate their shot since adult doses would be inappropriate for young children.

While no one but you can decide which vaccine is best for your child, Healthline spoke with experts to help you make a better-informed decision.

According to Eric Ball, MD, a pediatrician with Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) Primary Care Network, both vaccines have been shown to elicit a strong immune response and were very safe in the clinical trials.

He said that the vaccines differ in how many active ingredient each contains.

“The Moderna vaccine is 25 mcg, which is one quarter of the adult dose, and is given in two doses spread over four weeks,” Dr. Ball explained. “The Pfizer vaccine is 3 mcg, which is one-tenth of the adult dose, and is given three times.”

Since the dosage is slightly different for these two vaccines, one of the biggest differences is that it takes eight weeks for a child getting the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to get all of the doses to be considered fully vaccinated.

If they get the Moderna vaccine, they will be done with their COVID-19 vaccine regimen after just one month.

Diego Hijano, MD, a faculty member in the Department of Infectious Diseases in the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Department of Infectious Diseases, noted both drugmakers showed data on how their vaccines protect children this age.

“The companies assess how well their vaccines work by measuring antibody responses and the number of kids infected after vaccination,” he said. “Both companies show that their vaccines elicit a robust antibody response within what they have already established as protective.”

He pointed out that the vaccines protect against severe disease (which can result in hospitalization or dying) and also protect against multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS), a rare, yet life-threatening complication of COVID-19 in children.

Dr. Hijano cautioned parents not to underestimate the benefits of vaccination.

“As we roll out vaccination for different groups, we continue to observe that vaccines save countless lives,” he said and emphasized that vaccine side effects are mild and resolve within one to two days.

“In contrast, as the virus continues to change, we see more children getting infected and requiring hospitalization,” Hijano warned. “Even though anyone can still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated, the chances of needing to see a doctor are much less.”

Data from study trials found that Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had an efficacy of about 76 percent in children ages 6 to 23 months and about 82 percent in children ages 2 to 4 years.

The Moderna vaccine protected against infection in about 51 percent of children between ages 6 and 23 months. It protected against infection in about 37 percent of children between ages 2 and 5 years.

“Children under five are the last age group to be eligible for vaccination against the Novel SARS-CoV-2 Virus that causes COVID-19,” said Matthew Harris, MD, medical director for the Northwell Health COVID-19 vaccination program and a pediatric emergency medicine physician.

Dr. Harris added that the potential for illness coupled with the impact on the child and family with missing school or work, as well as the reduction in transmission to higher-risk patients, “all support the need to vaccinate children in this age group.”

“Children in this age group, coupled with other unvaccinated children, made up the majority of new cases during the Omicron surge,” he said.

Harris emphasized that this is an important moment in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many children required hospitalization for dehydration or difficulty breathing in the setting of COVID 19,” he said.

Ball said it’s “even more critical” for children who are at higher risk for serious illness with COVID-19 to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

This includes children with comorbidities that include diabetes and suppressed immune function.

“All children and their medical conditions are different, so we recommend discussing specific circumstances with your pediatrician,” he said.

Asked about potential side effects parents should be aware of, Ball confirmed the vaccines were found to be safe and well-tolerated.

Ball added that side effects are similar to what is seen with all vaccines and included fevers and sore muscles.

“In our experience vaccinating older children, these side effects seem to be less prevalent and/or less severe in children than in adults, likely due to the lower dosage of the pediatric formulations,” he said.

He confirmed that in clinical trials, there were zero cases of myocarditis in this age group.

Dr. Li emphasized that as a father, he wouldn’t hesitate to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.

“Nor would I hesitate to get my children vaccinated,” he said. “This will slow down the community transmission of COVID-19.”

“Right now, both vaccines are really promising,” Harris said. “With data that shows that both vaccines generate a robust immune response, with minimal side effects.”

He added that physicians, scientists and public health officials will continue to “follow the data” to see if one vaccine confers more benefit than the other.

“But right now, parents have two great options,” he said.

According to the White House, Biden’s administration has procured a “significant supply” of vaccines for this age group, with 10 million doses available initially and millions more becoming available in the coming weeks.

In a recent press release, the administration said the first vaccinations for this age group are slated to start as early as the week of June 20, with the program “ramping up over time” as more doses are delivered, and more appointments become available.

“As always, state and local governments, health care providers, federal pharmacy partners, national and community-based organizations, and other entities will be critical to the success of this historic, nationwide effort,” the White House said in a statement.

The FDA has approved both Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for use in children from six months to five years old.

Experts say both vaccines are safe and well tolerated in this age group, with the difference being in how many doses are given and the amount of active ingredient in each shot.

They also say that any side effects are mild and typically resolve within a few days.