With Covid-19 vaccines now approved for use in children ages 5 and up, the Marion School District is urging its families to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.

The CDC officially endorsed the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5-11 this week, following FDA approval. (The Pfizer vaccine was approved for children 12-17 earlier this year.) With this move, an additional 28 million children in the United States are eligible for vaccination, including nearly every student in the Marion School District.

“As we have said all along, vaccination is our best shot to ending the pandemic,” said Dr. Glen Fenter, Marion superintendent. “Now, for the first time, nearly every one of our students can get the vaccination. We urge families to take advantage of this new tool in the pandemic fight.”

The Crittenden County Health Department will hold a children’s vaccine clinic from 8 a.m.-noon Saturday (November 6) at 900 N. Seventh Street in West Memphis. For additional vaccination availability, families should contact their pediatrician or pharmacy.

The CDC and the Arkansas Department of Health are encouraging all parents to get their children vaccinated. Although Covid-19 in children is usually milder than in adults, some kids can get very sick and have complications or long-lasting symptoms that affect their health and well-being. The virus can cause death in children, although this is rarer than for adults.

Like adults, children also can transmit the coronavirus to others if they are infected, even when no symptoms are present. The Covid-19 vaccine protects against this potential harm to the child and others, including family members and friends who may be susceptible.

“As always, our top priority is the health and safety of our students,” said Kelly Fogleman, school health coordinator for the Marion School District. “We have seen success with our mask mandate in reducing the number of positive cases and quarantines among our students this fall. But even though masks help, the best defense against Covid-19, by far, is vaccination. More and more data is being accumulated every day that demonstrates that the vaccine is safe and that it’s effective. We urge our families to take advantage of it.”

At this time, the district does not plan to hold an on-campus booster clinic for teachers and staff. However, all school staff are currently eligible for a booster shot as long as it's been 6 months since their last Covid-19 vaccination. Booster shots can be scheduled at your local pharmacy.

See below for additional information about the Covid-19 vaccine, and its use in children:

Q: What is the difference between the vaccine for children ages 5-11 and the vaccine for ages 12 and up?

A: The vaccine dosage for children ages 5-11 is one-third of the dosage given to older children and adults. The Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine dosage is 10 micrograms for ages 5-to-11 and 30 micrograms for individuals 12 and older.

Despite the smaller dose, the immune response in smaller children is as strong as in older children and adults.

Children will have a two-dose vaccine series, just like adults, and the vaccines are most effective 14 days after the second dose.

Q: How was the vaccine safety tested for children ages 5-11?

A: During clinical trials, investigators tested the lower-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 2,268 children ages 5-11. In September, they announced the data demonstrated the vaccine was safe and produced a significant immune response. Within this test group, about half received the vaccine, and half received a placebo. None of the children who received the Covid-19 vaccine became sick with Covid-19, while 18 children in the placebo group contracted Covid-19.

Side effects like fever, headache, and fatigue were similar to those seen in adults, and there were no reports of heart inflammation, called myocarditis, among the vaccinated children.

Pfizer continues to gather data on this test group every two weeks to ensure its continued efficacy.

Q: What do we know about the long-term effects of the vaccine on growing children? Are there concerns about a potential impact on future fertility?

A: Side effects are common with all childhood vaccines and occur shortly after injection because the body quickly destroys the substances in the vaccine.

So far, we have several months of safety information on thousands of children involved in the clinical trials and many months of safety information from the millions of vaccinated older children and adults. There is no evidence of any long-term side effects from the Covid-19 vaccine.  

Importantly, the FDA continues to monitor all vaccines in the United States for side effects through patient reporting, clinical studies, and nationwide monitoring.

There is no evidence of any impact on current or future fertility, pregnancy, or breastmilk. In fact, many women who chose to get vaccinated have since gotten pregnant and given birth. In addition, their babies were born with vaccine antibodies, protecting them from Covid-19.

Q: Does the vaccine work differently for children ages 5-11 than for older children and adults?

A: The vaccine works the same in children ages 5-11 as it does in adults.

The Pfizer vaccine uses mRNA technology — the “m” stands for messenger. Think of the mRNA molecule like a set of instructions. While many vaccines use a weakened or inactivated germ to trigger an immune response in our bodies, mRNA vaccines carry a set of instructions teaching our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response and produces antibodies to the virus.

mRNA technology has been studied to treat cancer, muscular dystrophy, and other diseases for over 15 years.

You can learn more about mRNA vaccines on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Q: Does my child really need to get vaccinated? Aren’t they less likely to get sick from Covid-19 than adults?

A: The Covid-19 vaccine is the safest, most effective way to protect yourself and your children. From the history of vaccines and the history of the Covid-19 vaccine in adults and in children ages 12 and older, we know receiving the vaccine is much safer than your child getting Covid-19.

Early in the pandemic, it appeared children were less affected, but we now know they can get extremely sick from Covid-19. We also know children can easily spread the infection within their families.

Q: Can my child get the Covid-19 vaccine and other vaccines like the flu shot at the same time?

A: Ongoing research shows that the Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective when administered with other vaccines. The CDC revised their recommendations eliminating any waiting period, including giving the Covid-19 vaccine at the same time as other vaccinations like the flu shot.  

Q: Is there any reason my child should NOT get vaccinated?

A: Children should not get the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine if they have a history of a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient (such as polyethylene glycol) in the vaccine. Allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients are extremely rare. The vaccine does not contain eggs, preservatives, or latex, and you can find a complete list of the ingredients here. 

If you have questions, talk to your pediatrician before getting your child vaccinated.

If your child has severe allergies to anything else (medications, foods, bees), remain at the vaccination site for 30 minutes after the injection, instead of the 15-minute waiting time recommended for the general population.