The nation’s youngest children are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday recommended doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines tailored for kids as young as 6 months.
Babies, toddlers and preschoolers are the last age group to become eligible in the United States. The rollout is expected to begin early this week for 18 million kids nationwide.
Florida parents may face delays in getting their youngest vaccinated. The state did not preorder doses from the federal government that would go to pediatric hospitals, pediatricians and other medical facilities. The White House says that could delay delivery to Florida but didn’t say for how long.
Retail pharmacies such as Costco, CVS, Publix, Sam’s Club, Walgreens and Winn-Dixie will get their doses through a different federal pipeline, but there are age limits to who can get vaccinated there. Parents of babies and toddlers who have to rely on medical facilities to get vaccinated may face delays.
The long-awaited vaccines arrive as antibody-dodging virus strains sweep the nation, complicating the ever-shifting outbreak, which has infected more than 85 million Americans and killed more than 1 million.
Here’s what Florida parents with kids of all ages need to know about vaccines, booster shots and staying safe from COVID-19.
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What is the latest development?
Babies, toddlers and preschoolers can finally get vaccinated.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recommended the vaccine Saturday after it was endorsed by advisers to her agency and the Food and Drug Administration.
A three-dose Pfizer vaccine is available for infants and children 6 months to 4 years old. A two-dose Moderna vaccine is for kids 6 months to age 5.
The Pfizer vaccine’s second dose should be administered three weeks after the first and the third dose eight weeks after that. Moderna’s doses are given four weeks apart.
Last week the FDA also endorsed a Moderna vaccine for kids ages 6 to 17, but the CDC has yet to issue recommendations for those shots.
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Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for young children?
Yes. Severe reactions to coronavirus vaccines are extremely rare.
When Moderna and Pfizer studied their shots for young children, there were no vaccine-related cases of anaphylaxis, no deaths and no confirmed reports of myocarditis, according to the FDA. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle that has been linked to Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA coronavirus vaccines. Cases are rare.
The most common adverse reactions in Pfizer’s trial were irritability, drowsiness, decreased appetite, fatigue and injection site pain or tenderness. Moderna reported similar results.
The Pfizer shots are one-tenth of an adult dose. The Moderna shots are one-quarter of an adult dose.
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Are the vaccines for young children effective?
Pfizer says a preliminary analysis shows its shots are 80% effective against symptomatic illness. That estimate may decline in the future as more data is collected. One vaccine recipient was hospitalized for COVID-19 during the Pfizer trial.
The Moderna vaccine is about 51% effective in preventing sickness in children between 6 months and 2 years old. The vaccine is roughly 37% effective in kids 2 to 5 years old, according to company data. There were no serious virus cases reported in kids and teenagers during Moderna’s trial.
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Do kids need a booster shot, and when should they get it?
The CDC in May urged kids 5 and older to get a booster, citing an increase in COVID-19 cases driven by contagious omicron subvariants. The subvariants more easily evade the virus immunity built up by prior infection or vaccination.
Children and teens ages 5 to 17 should get a booster five months after completing their initial Pfizer vaccine series, the CDC says.
Health officials have not issued booster recommendations for Moderna shots tailored for kids ages 6 to 17. Recipients in this age group will likely need a booster in the future to combat variants, according to the FDA.
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Do kids need to get a second booster?
Children and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who have weakened immune systems should get a fifth Pfizer dose (a second booster shot) after an initial three-dose regimen. The second booster should be administered at least four months after the first.
Teens undergoing cancer treatment or taking immunosuppressive drugs qualify for the second booster. So do organ transplant recipients.
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Do vaccines still prevent infection?
The vaccines’ ability to protect against COVID-19 infection has weakened in the face of variants. Over time, omicron can evade vaccine immunity, though boosters can help strengthen the body’s antibody response.
Immunity also wanes with time, which is why getting boosted is crucial. A U.K. study published in April in the New England Journal of Medicine found the two-dose adult Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness against omicron illness dropped from 65.5% to 8.8% after six months. The effectiveness rebounded to 67.2% following a booster, but fell back to 45.7% after two months.
Moderna’s adult two-dose vaccine experienced a similar drop in effectiveness. Its protection was strengthened by a booster.
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If vaccines can’t completely block infection, why do kids need them?
Research shows vaccines still do a good job at preventing severe symptoms, serious illness and hospitalization.
U.K. health officials said in a December report that three vaccine doses reduced the risk of hospitalization by 81% for patients infected with omicron, in comparison to the unvaccinated.
The CDC in January said booster shots were 90% effective at preventing omicron hospitalizations.
“What we’re looking at is preventing severe infections,” said Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio. “We don’t mind if you get mild flu. Our flu vaccine is there to prevent you from getting hospitalized, from going on oxygen, going to the intensive care unit. I think that’s the same deal with COVID.”
More than 30,000 U.S. children ages 4 and under have been hospitalized with COVID-19 during the pandemic, said U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Over 400 have died.
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Are there kids who should not get vaccinated?
Yes. Children and teens who are allergic to an ingredient in Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines and could suffer a severe reaction should not get vaccinated, federal health officials say. These reactions include anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction, and difficulty breathing caused by angioedema, which is swelling beneath the skin.
In March, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo issued his own recommendation that healthy children should not get vaccinated — contradicting advice from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids should get their shots.
He said the risks of vaccinating them “may outweigh the benefits,” citing several studies. The Tampa Bay Times spoke to four experts Lapado cited who said their research was taken out of context and that they believe the vaccines are effective.
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What else can I do to protect my family?
Vaccinate everyone in your household, Esper said.
If that’s not possible, wear a high-quality mask in crowded places if COVID-19 is rapidly spreading in the community.
Consider avoiding busy indoor gatherings altogether, said Allison Messina, chief of the division of infectious disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, and “think twice” about taking the family to crowded restaurants when positivity rates are high.
Send kids to school wearing masks, she added. And keep children home if they are sick.
The CDC also recommends maintaining social distancing of 6 feet in public places, frequent hand washing and testing.
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Do minors need parental permission to get vaccinated?
Yes. Florida is one of 41 states that requires parental consent for those under 18 to get vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis from October.
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Will parents be billed for vaccinating their kids?
COVID-19 vaccines remain free to the public, the CDC says. There should be no out-of-pocket costs.
Vaccine providers cannot charge you for the vaccine; charge you directly for administration fees, copays or coinsurance; deny the vaccine to uninsured, underinsured or out-of-network patients; charge an office visit or other fee if the only service provided is a COVID-19 vaccination; or require additional health care services for a person to get vaccinated.
Be diligent, though. Vaccinators can bill you for additional, non-vaccine services they provide during your visit for the shot, such as a medical screening in the emergency room or care for other health issues.
Providers also can seek reimbursement from an individual’s private health insurance or from Medicare or Medicaid for vaccine administration fees. They cannot charge those patients for the balance of a bill their insurance doesn’t cover, according to the CDC. Administration fees are typically about $20 to $30 per vaccine, said BayCare spokeswoman Lisa Razler. So ask in advance.
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How can I get my child vaccinated?
Retail pharmacies should get the vaccines first. Check in advance to see what ages they’re vaccinating.
CVS plans to administer shots to kids 18 months to 4 years old at its MinuteClinic locations. Walgreens and Winn-Dixie will only offer vaccines to children 3 and up. Vaccine appointments can typically be booked online.
The national rollout will rely heavily on pediatricians and family medicine doctors, said Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general. Florida parents of younger children reliant on medical facilities may face delays because Florida was the only state that did not preorder vaccines for medical providers.
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How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the free, public COVID-19 testing sites in the bay area.
Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.
The U.S.: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.
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How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine is being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public health offices. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious COVID-19 variant affects masks, vaccines, boosters and quarantining.
BOOSTER SHOTS: Confused about which COVID booster to get? This guide will help.
BOOSTER QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Why do I need it? Here are the answers to your questions.
PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how seniors can stay safe from the virus.
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