As vaccines become available for younger people, Nathan Price has answers about COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness and the risk of side effects in children.

A rise in adolescent hospitalizations in March and April led the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to urge parents to vaccinate their teenagers against COVID-19.

The CDC currently does not recommend vaccinations for children younger than 12, and the Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for people 12 and older. The other two vaccines provided in the US—one from Moderna and the other from Johnson & Johnson—are only available to people 18 and older.

Here, Price, an assistant professor in the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine-Tucson’s pediatrics department, answers questions parents frequently ask about children and vaccines:

What measures were taken to test the COVID-19 vaccine on children?

Anytime we bring a new vaccine, medication, or medical device to the public, it undergoes rigorous testing. Depending on the disease, testing begins with healthy adult volunteers and then advances to others. It takes a while for testing to include children, as they don’t have the legal capacity to make decisions about their health, so there is an extra level of precaution involved.

Once COVID-19 vaccine testing moved to children, researchers started with the older age group, 16- to 18-year-olds. Of those, very few children who received the vaccine went on to become infected compared with those who received the placebo.

The children who received the vaccine had more side effects than the placebo, but they were usually minor. They also had measurable antibodies, and they were less likely to become infected. When that phase of testing was considered safe and effective, researchers began including 12- and 15-year-olds.

Scientists tested about 2,000 12- to 15-year-old patients; 1,000 received the vaccine and 1,000 were in the placebo group. None of the children in the vaccine group were infected and they had measurable antibodies consistent with immunity. They also had side effects such as headache, chills, or fatigue, but no severe reaction. Ongoing evaluation continues to be done to look for more rare or more severe side effects.

Read the full article about COVID-19 vaccines and children from Futurity.