Children under age five have been the last group in the U.S. to have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving plenty of parents anxiously waiting for the opportunity to give their children the shots. But, while the vaccine was authorized for children between the ages of six months to five years in mid-June, some parents are reporting difficulty actually getting the vaccine at pharmacies.
The White House has issued an operational plan to make the vaccine more easily accessible to children under five, and specifically cites pharmacies among the locations where parents can take their kids to get the shot. The plan notes that "thousands of local pharmacies nationwide" will have the vaccine available, pointing out that "pharmacies will offer convenient hours and advanced scheduling to best meet the needs of parents and communities."
But not every major pharmacy is offering COVID vaccines to this entire age group. CVS says on its website that it will give shots to children who are aged five and up, with shots for those 18 months and older available at its MinuteClinics (medical clinics available inside select CVS stores). Walgreens also says on its website that patients "must be three years of age or older" to be vaccinated in their stores. Rite Aid notes on its website, too, that its pharmacists only vaccinate children who are three and up, and encourages parents to contact their pediatrician about getting younger kids vaccinated.
This raises a lot of questions about vaccine access for younger children — and how to actually get the shot for your child. Here's what you need to know.
Why is it so hard to get a pharmacy appointment for young children?
Pediatricians say that, in general, many pharmacists — who mainly deal with adults — just don't feel comfortable giving shots to kids. "As such, they set guidelines of a higher age limit for which they will offer services," Dr. Hanna Jaworski, division chief of pediatrics at Spectrum Health, tells Yahoo Life.
Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that her office has fielded several questions from parents about this. "There's enough vaccine for all of these babies and toddlers, but not every pharmacy feels comfortable delivering it to them," she explains. "Some parents may have to be more resourceful with how they get the vaccine."
How can parents get an appointment?
You have a few options if your child can't get vaccinated at your local pharmacy. "A primary care provider is always going to be a great option," Jaworski says. That can include your child's pediatrician or your family doctor. The government website vaccines.gov also breaks down where you can find vaccines in your area.
Your local health department should be able to point you to a provider who can help, too, or may even be holding an upcoming clinic where you could get your child vaccinated, Fisher says. "Parents can also talk to other parents," she adds. But, when you're not sure, talk to your pediatrician, suggests Fisher — they should be able to help.
How safe is the vaccine in young children?
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. for children under five — from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Pfizer’s vaccine is a three-dose regimen and delivers a 3-microgram dose of the vaccine for each. The vaccine was found to be 80.3% effective at preventing COVID-19 during the Omicron wave, according to Pfizer.
Moderna’s vaccine is a two-dose regimen with a 25 microgram dose. Moderna says its vaccine is 51% effective at preventing COVID-19 in children six months to under two years, and 37% effective in children under six.
These are the most commonly-reported side effects with the Moderna vaccine, per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
pain, redness and swelling at the injection site
fever and underarm or groin swelling/tenderness of lymph nodes in the same arm (or thigh) as the injection
Younger babies (six months to 36 months) had the following symptoms:
loss of appetite
These were the most commonly reported side effects for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to the FDA:
pain, tenderness, redness and swelling at the injection site
"I'm really excited about the vaccine," Fisher says. "It's safe. Everyone who has gotten it so far has done really well." Jaworski says the vaccines are "highly effective" at preventing serious disease and hospitalization in this age group and are "very safe."
Keep in mind, too, that you should consider the vaccine for your child even if they already had COVID-19. Fisher notes that your child will have "roughly 90 days' worth" of protection from the virus after their infection, but the vaccine can offer a broader form of immunity. "You're not in a rush, but it's a good idea to think about getting vaccinated three months out from the infection," Fisher says. "People can get COVID more than one time."
How spread out do the shots need to be for children?
Each COVID vaccine is a little different. The Pfizer vaccine is given as two initial doses spaced three weeks apart, followed by a third dose eight weeks after the second dose, the FDA explains. The Moderna vaccine is given one month apart, the FDA says, with a third dose available a month after the second dose in children who are immunocompromised.
Overall, experts say it's a good idea to get your child a COVID vaccine appointment whenever you can. "I encourage families to go ahead and get their children vaccinated," Fisher says.
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.