Covid-19 vaccinations for kids: the basics

On 17 January 2022,  New Zealand’s 5 to 11-year-olds became eligible for vaccination against Covid-19, with the aim of having kids’ protection underway before they head back to school. We set out the basics of this new vaccination programme for kids.

Independent experts have welcomed the move saying it will help to keep both children and the wider community safe, and that reducing transmission in schools is an important step in reducing the virus’s spread.

“With Delta in the community and Omicron knocking on our doors, having a safe and effective vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds is crucial for preventing long-term health problems and saving lives and livelihoods,” says Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles, School of Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland.

Immunologist Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu, University of Otago (Wellington) Associate Dean (Pacific) says that although children are more likely to have a mild case or be asymptomatic with Covid-19, they can still catch it and become unwell, end up with long Covid and, for children and youth with underlying medical conditions, have a higher risk of serious illness and hospitalisation.

“With more people interacting and getting out and about coming into close contact with each other, there’s risk that this will promote and accelerate spread – especially for those who are vulnerable, including our children,” she says.

Here’s the latest key information from the government about the vaccination programme it is rolling out for New Zealand’s tamariki.

What is the vaccine and how many shots do 5 to 11-year-olds need?

The vaccine is an adapted version of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine that’s already being used for people aged 12 and over in New Zealand. The kids’ version is a lower dose and smaller volume and was granted provisional approval by New Zealand’s Medsafe. It has also been approved for use with children in Australia and the USA.

Those in the 5 to 11-year-old bracket will need to have two doses of the children’s (paediatric) Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, with the second dose given at least eight weeks later (this can be reduced to 21 days in specific circumstances).

Remember that anyone aged 12 and over is already eligible to get vaccinated immediately.

Why do we need it?

The government says children are far less likely to fall seriously ill and less likely to transmit the virus to others if they are vaccinated.

“As we have seen to date, the virus can be unpredictable. While Covid-19 generally has milder effects in children, with symptoms similar to a cold, some children become severely ill and require hospitalisation. In the most recent outbreak, 24 percent of cases have been aged 11 or under,” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Is it compulsory?

Hipkins says the government is strongly encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated against Covid-19, but it has no intention of making the vaccinations mandatory for anyone in this age group.

How much does it cost?

Like the adult vaccinations, it’s free. A parent, caregiver or legal guardian needs to go with the child to their appointment as the responsible adult and provide consent for them to be vaccinated though.

Where and when is it available?

From Monday January 17, parents and caregivers can take their tamariki to a walk-in clinic or use BookMyVaccine.nz to get immunised with their usual health provider, hauora, or general practice. For those wanting to book for more than one child, or unable to book online, you can call the Covid Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26 (seven days a week, 8am to 8pm).

The disability team is also available through this number (available Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm). Phone 0800 28 29 26 and press 2, free text 8988 or email accessiblecovidvaccinations@whakarongorau.nz.

Is it safe and what should I watch out for?

Medsafe – the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority – says it only approves vaccines or medicines for use in New Zealand if it is satisfied they have met high standards for quality, safety and efficacy.

The vaccine has been through clinical trials in children of the same age group and generally the side effects reported were mild, didn’t last long and were similar to that of other routine vaccinations.

However, the government says myocarditis and pericarditis are very rare but serious side effects of the Pfizer vaccine. While no cases were seen in the clinical trial in 5 to 11-year-olds, it is important to be aware of the symptoms for everyone that is vaccinated.

You can learn more about the side effects of the vaccine and what to look out for on the Unite against Covid-19 website.