mRNA Covid vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna shots, are effective at preventing infection and severe illness and have low rates of serious side effects in young children, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics on Tuesday, firmly underscoring the benefits of vaccination as uptake of the shots remains poor.
mRNA Covid-19 vaccines were effective at preventing symptomatic or asymptomatic coronavirus infections in children aged 5 to 11 years, according to a review and analysis of 17 published studies which covered more than 10 million vaccinated children and more than 2.6 million unvaccinated children.
The research, which covered omicron and delta variants, also showed the vaccines helped prevent severe illness from Covid-19 and cut the risk of hospitalization.
Vaccination also helped lower the odds of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare but dangerous, possibly lethal complication associated with Covid infections in kids.
While most children will experience at least one side effect after getting vaccinated, these were usually mild and resolved within several days, the researchers said.
They added serious side effects were rare, including myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle.
The potentially serious condition occurred in only 1.8 per million vaccinated after the second injection, the researchers said.
In a linked commentary, Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said poor vaccine uptake has been driven by parental concern over vaccine safety and the belief Covid-19 was not severe enough in young children to warrant safeguards against it. Both factors don’t justify forgoing vaccination, said Offit, who was not involved in the research. This study demonstrates the safety of available vaccines and the “minuscule” risk of serious side effects like myocarditis, Offit explained, and though “far less devastating in children than older adults,” children are still at risk of serious and rarely deadly infections. “Given the amount of information currently available to parents, the decision to vaccinate their children should be an easy one,” Offit wrote.
Covid vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 years have been available in the U.S. for over a year after the first shots were authorized in late 2021. The shots have been built using the same mRNA formula underpinning Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s shots for adults, which research has repeatedly shown to be safe and effective. Despite an abundant body of evidence showing the benefits and safety of these shots in kids, which this study evaluates, hesitancy among parents is high and uptake remains low, even when parents themselves have been vaccinated. Less than one third of children ages 5 to 11 years have completed their two-shot primary vaccination series, according to CDC data, and only around 40% have had at least one dose. Boosters are available but have proven similarly unpopular: fewer than 4% have received the recommended updated booster shot. Parents’ reluctance to get their kids vaccinated fits within an ongoing climate of vaccine hesitancy and growing skepticism that has fueled a resurgence of diseases like chickenpox and measles in the U.S.
Vaccination rates are even lower in children under 5. Roughly 5% of kids ages 2-4 and around 3% of infants under two have completed their primary round of Covid shots (three for Pfizer, two for Moderna), according to CDC data. Respectively, around 10% and 7% have had at least one shot.