How well do COVID vaccines for kids under 5 work? And where can you get one in Florida?

·6 min read

As a healthcare worker, Dr. Hansel Tookes was part of the first group of people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Miami-Dade County when the Pfizer vaccine rolled out in December 2020.

Last week, his 20-month-old daughter, Paula, also made history.

She was the first child under 5 to get vaccinated against COVID at Jessie Trice Community Health System, said Tookes, an associate professor at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine who also works at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Paula got her first shot last Wednesday, just days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for babies as young as 6 months.

For Paula, the pinch in her leg got her a Doc McStuffins sticker, bubbles, and a round of applause from staff and patients. For Tookes and his husband, Peter Ortega, it meant their little girl was one step closer to having some protection against COVID-19.

Paula, the 20-month-old daughter of Dr. Hansel Tookes and Peter Ortega, gets her first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 pediatric vaccine for kids under 5 at Jessie Trice Community Health System on Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Paula, the 20-month-old daughter of Dr. Hansel Tookes and Peter Ortega, gets her first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 pediatric vaccine for kids under 5 at Jessie Trice Community Health System on Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The two were “waiting for the day that we would be able to protect her as we introduce her to the world,” Dr. Tookes said.

The UM professor, who works in the school’s division of infectious diseases, said he spoke with several people about the pediatric vaccines. He spoke with Paula’s pediatrician at Jackson’s Ambulatory Care Center, a friend who worked on the COVID vaccine trials at the FDA, and UM’s chief of infectious diseases, who ran the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial in Miami. He also followed the trials closely.

Tookes said his desire for a pediatric vaccine grew when he learned Paula had asthma. Now, that day finally came.

Once Paula completes her vaccination (she’ll get her second Moderna dose in July), Tookes said the family is planning to visit Los Angeles so Paula can see Peter’s family. He’s also excited for the fall, when she’ll return to school in-person.

If you’re thinking about whether to vaccinate your little one, here’s an FAQ guide on what to know:

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for kids?

Florida’s health department is not recommending the pediatric shots for healthy children, a contrast to the guidance by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, which are recommending the vaccines and say the shots are safe and effective.

While kids are at less risk for severe COVID illness than adults, some kids do get hospitalized and die. Parents should contact their child’s pediatrician for any questions or concerns they have about the vaccines.

READ NEXT: COVID vaccines for infants arrive in Florida. Here’s why doctors are throwing them away

The vaccines should not be given to kids who are allergic to any of its ingredients or kids who had an allergic reaction to a previous shot of the vaccine, according to the FDA. The FDA website lists the ingredients in the Pfizer and Moderna’ under-5 COVID vaccines.

Parents should also tell their vaccine provider if their child has any allergies or certain conditions, such as myocarditis, pericarditis or a bleeding disorder, is immunocompromised or is on a medicine that affects their immune system.

Is it the same COVID vaccine as adults? Is it free?

The vaccine doses given to children are based on their age, not their size or weight, and are a smaller dose compared to what is given to teens and adults, according to the CDC. And yes, the COVID vaccines are free.

What are the side effects?

For children 3 and younger, pain in the area where the shot was given, loss of appetite, sleepiness, irritability, crying and swollen lymph nodes are common side effects, according to the CDC.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also notes that a “small number of vaccinated children get fever — but very few get high fever. Usually, it lasts only a day or two.”

“Thousands of children were in the studies, and there were no children with serious allergic reactions, heart inflammation or other serious problems related to the vaccines that may worry parents,” the pediatric association wrote in a blog post.

Westchester resident Julie Budejen, 35, holds her daughter Zoey, 3, as she high-fives a healthcare worker at the Nomi Health Mobile Health Unit inside Tropical Park in Miami, Florida, on Saturday, June 25, 2022.
Westchester resident Julie Budejen, 35, holds her daughter Zoey, 3, as she high-fives a healthcare worker at the Nomi Health Mobile Health Unit inside Tropical Park in Miami, Florida, on Saturday, June 25, 2022.

Pfizer or Moderna? Which vaccine is better for babies, toddlers?

At least for the moment, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics is not recommending one pediatric vaccine over the other.

How well do the COVID vaccines work for kids under 5?

“Babies and young children 6 months to 5 years who get COVID vaccines likely will get protection similar to the protection older kids get. The level of protection from symptoms of COVID infection is less than 50%,” the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote in a blog post. “Both vaccines are expected to be much more effective in preventing hospitalization and other serious issues.”

How many doses is the under-5 COVID vaccine?

Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for kids ages 6 months to 4 years requires three doses. The first and second shots should be given three weeks apart and the third shot at least eight weeks after the second dose, according to the FDA.

Moderna’s COVID vaccine for kids ages 6 months to 5 years requires two doses given a month apart. Some kids in this age group who are immunocompromised can also get a third shot at least one month after the second dose.

Dr. Hansel Tookes and his husband, Peter Ortega, pose with their daughter Paula and Jessie Trice staff members after Paula got her first dose of Moderna’s pediatric vaccine for kids under 5 on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Dr. Hansel Tookes and his husband, Peter Ortega, pose with their daughter Paula and Jessie Trice staff members after Paula got her first dose of Moderna’s pediatric vaccine for kids under 5 on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

Will schools require the COVID vaccine in Florida?

While Florida requires kids to get certain vaccines for school, the COVID-19 vaccine is optional.

Where can I get my baby or toddler vaccinated?

Giam Diaz, 3, receives a COVID-19 vaccine as his mother, Ismarai Rodriguez, 37, center, and his aunt Natalie Leon, 30, right, hold him Saturday at the Nomi Health Mobile Health Unit at Tropical Park. The county has begun offering the free vaccines to children under 5 at eight sites.
Giam Diaz, 3, receives a COVID-19 vaccine as his mother, Ismarai Rodriguez, 37, center, and his aunt Natalie Leon, 30, right, hold him Saturday at the Nomi Health Mobile Health Unit at Tropical Park. The county has begun offering the free vaccines to children under 5 at eight sites.

Parents interested in getting their child vaccinated should first speak with their child’s pediatrician to see if they plan to offer the shots. Some children’s hospitals like Nicklaus Children’s near South Miami are offering the vaccines. Eight Miami-Dade County sites are also offering the vaccines for kids under 5 through Wednesday.

If you’re looking for a nearby health center, the Florida Association of Community Health Centers has an online locator you can use to find a center by address, ZIP Code, center name or by county. Another option is to use the nationwide health center online locator that’s available through the Health Resources and Services Administration. This locator will let you search for a center anywhere in the United States. Keep in mind that you’ll have to call and ask if the center is offering the pediatric vaccine.

Another option is to enter your ZIP Code at vaccines.gov to find a nearby site that has the vaccines in stock.

Some retail pharmacies offering the shots to kids as young as 3 in select stores across Florida include Walgreens, Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Fresco y Más. Appointments can be made online.

CVS Health, which owns traditional CVS stores, CVS y mas and Navarro Discount Pharmacies is offering the shots to kids as young as 18 months at its MinuteClinic locations. Appointments can be made online.

What about Publix?

While the Lakeland-based supermarket does offer COVID-19 vaccines for kids 5 and older at select stores across Florida, it is not planning to vaccinate kids under 5 “at this time.”