The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which received approval for emergency use by the FDA, are not currently approved for use in children. Thomas Murray, MD, PhD, Associate Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital, answered some frequently asked questions about the vaccine and when it might be available to families.

What are the approved ages for the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer vaccine is indicated for children 16 years and older, and the Moderna vaccine is currently for those who are 18 years or older. However, clinical trials are underway with children as young as 12, so hopefully more data will become available about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy for kids in the coming months.

Why was the vaccine approved for adults first?

Typically when you have a new product that’s coming to market, the first place you want to test it for safety is in older, healthy adults. In this case, there’s an added benefit because we know adults are more likely to develop more severe cases of COVID-19. So it makes a lot of sense to start with adults.

If the Pfizer vaccine is approved for those 16 and up, when can my teen get it?

That will depend on guidelines from the state and department of health and how they decide to roll out the vaccine in terms of risk. Fortunately, kids tend to not get as sick from COVID-19 as adults. I expect they will eventually get access to the vaccine when it becomes available to the general public, which may be by early summer.

How are COVID-19 vaccines different from other common childhood immunizations?

The COVID-19 vaccine is made differently compared to other common vaccines. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines, which use genetic material from the virus. Cells from our body use the genetic material to make protein that stimulates our immune system, so that we can produce the antibodies that protect us. Like some other vaccinations, these vaccines do not contain live virus, so there is NO risk of getting COVID-19 from the vaccine.

How effective is this vaccine compared to other common childhood immunizations?

We’re very lucky in this case, in that the studies show it’s about 95% effective in the clinical trials, which is exceptional. It’s still unclear if that number will hold up when it’s introduced to the larger population, but there are studies underway that will answer that question.

If kids can’t get the vaccine now, how can families stay safe?

If you are someone who is in a high-risk group, I strongly encourage you to talk to your healthcare provider about the risks and benefits and to consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available to you. That’s the best thing you can do to prevent COVID-19 from entering the household.

While you’re waiting for the vaccine, it’s important to continue to maintain social distancing protocols, wear masks and wash hands. If you do become sick, isolate yourself and get tested for COVID-19.

Everyone has a little bit of pandemic fatigue at this point and it’s exceedingly difficult to continue to stay home. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of community transmission not only across the country but in the state of Connecticut. I am as frustrated as everyone. I just urge everyone to hang in there, and as we roll out the vaccine, better days are ahead. But we still need to be vigilant for the next few months.

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine.