For many families, the approaching end-of-year holidays will mean not only navigating the return of crowded airports and packed roads, but also scheduling vaccinations for children 5 to 11 years old who are now eligible for coronavirus shots.
About 28 million young children are now able to get smaller doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine after federal authorities gave the green light earlier this week. The signoff sparked a dash for families nationwide — many parents scrambling for appointments to try to get their children at least partially vaccinated ahead of Thanksgiving.
Some providers are now vaccinating young children, while others are still waiting to receive the doses. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said on Wednesday that doses will continue to be shipped across the country over the weekend, and the rollout will “hit full strength next week.”
The scramble may leave some parents wondering how to best ensure their children are protected ahead of the upcoming holiday season.
— When are young children fully vaccinated?
Younger children are eligible for a two-shot regimen of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with the jabs three weeks apart. They will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose, just like older children and adults.
— When do you need to get the first dose to be fully vaccinated for the holidays?
For children in the 5-to-11 age group, there isn’t enough time to start the regimen and be considered fully vaccinated ahead of Thanksgiving, on Nov. 25, or Hanukkah, which starts on Nov. 28 — and just enough time for a few others.
“That gives us a couple of weeks for some holidays to be fully vaccinated,” said Claire Boogaard, director of the COVID-19 program at Children’s National Hospital in Washington.
Families would need to make sure their children get the first shot by Nov. 19 in order to have time to complete the series by Christmas Eve on Dec. 24 and Nov. 21 to be ready by the first day of Kwanzaa, which begins on Dec. 26. Young kids would need to get their first shots by Nov. 26 to have time to complete the regimen for any gatherings on New Year’s Eve.
Still, health experts stressed the most important thing is to get vaccinated as soon as possible — partial vaccination still offers some protection.
“The approval is really timely,” said Chulie Ulloa, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at University of California at Irvine, adding that she anticipates “a lot more holiday travel and fewer mask-wearing. And people who are unvaccinated are certainly going to be the most vulnerable to infection.”
— Is it helpful to get at least one dose ahead of the holidays?
Yes, health experts say.
“If you’re thinking about traveling, thinking about the holidays, your child will be fully protected about five weeks after their first dose. However, it’s a continuum,” said Kawsar Talaat, vaccine expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Even within a couple of weeks after the first dose, they’re likely to have some pretty good protection, at least for a short period of time.”
Talaat, who said she was in the middle of trying to find an appointment for her 10-year-old, said her family will be traveling for Thanksgiving.
“I’m going to feel a lot better once his first dose is done, even though he won’t have time to have his second dose before we travel for Thanksgiving,” she said. “Whereas I have colleagues who don’t feel comfortable traveling until their children are fully protected, and so I think that’s a very personal family decision.”
Ulloa said “one dose is better than no dose.”
“I anticipate children, even after one dose, will have a pretty strong protection, but you will need that second dose to get you closer to 100 percent,” she said. “Also taking into consideration different individuals, children who are immunocompromised or who have underlying conditions that may reduce their response to the first dose — in general, starting the series sooner rather than later is best, especially going into the holiday season.”
— What else should families know as they navigate vaccinations ahead of the holidays?
Boogaard noted the distribution of vaccine doses for the newly eligible age group is still rolling out, which means more opportunities and vaccination appointments are opening up every day.
“I would just say be patient, things are going to be rolling out over the next week especially, so there will be more opportunities,” Boogaard said on Thursday.
She described the relief for families who have navigated the ongoing pandemic with children — with the new signoff coming nearly a year after parents and grandparents were eligible to get their shots.
As a mother to a 6-year-old, Boogaard said parents with young children have been “so used to adjusting their life over the last year so they decrease their risk.”
“We forget how nice it will be to peel back on some of those restrictions,” she said.