COVID-19 vaccination for kids 5-11: What you need to know

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 21)— Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the government is ramping up preparations for the vaccination of children aged 5-11.

Officials are aiming to inoculate 14.7 million kids under this age group, and they will get two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Guidelines are being prepared by the country's immunization task group and the National Vaccination Operations Center as they plan to start rolling out shots for these children by February.

CNN Philippines breaks down some tips given by health experts on how to prepare children for their coronavirus shots, as discussed during a webinar held by the University of the Philippines Manila - NIH National Telehealth Center, the Philippine General Hospital, and the Department of Health (DOH).

Assure them that vaccines are safe and effective

Epidemiologist Dr. Eric Tayag, head of the DOH Knowledge Management and Information Technology Unit, said it is very important for parents to tell their children why vaccination is important.

"Kailangan maintindihan ng mga bata na ito ay proteksyon para sa kanila at sa mga kasama nila sa bahay. Kasama na rin yung mga kalaro nila kung balang araw mababalik ang paglalaro sa ibang bata," Dr. Tayag said.

[Translation: Children should understand that vaccines will protect them and those they are living with - as well as their playmates, when one day playing with other children would once again be allowed.]

Tayag cited two reports proving the efficacy of Messenger RNA or mRNA vaccines, the type of vaccine that will be administered to children. In October 2021, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety concluded that in all age groups, the benefits of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in reducing hospitalizations and deaths outweigh the risks.

He also cited a study in the New England Journal of Medicine dated November 9, 2021, showing two 10-microgram doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered 21 days apart "was found to be safe, immunogenic, and efficacious" in children aged 5-11.

The Philippines' Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's emergency use authorization last December 2021, saying the vaccine had a "robust" antibody response in the age group. It is the only authorized brand so far for use in the 5-to-11 age range.

Take your time and be creative in explaining to kids what to expect

Parents should take their time and use the wait for vaccination day to be able to convince their children that the benefits of a shot outweigh the risks.

"Hindi talaga tayo dapat nagmamadali. Talagang bibigyan natin ng sapat na panahon na maipaliwanag yung mga pag-aalala, takot, agam-agam," Tayag said.

[Translation: We should not hurry. It's important to give enough time to explain these fears, suspicions, and worries.]

Tayag suggested the use of visual explainers - photos and videos of vaccination activities of children - so they can get a grasp of what to expect when their turn comes.

He also advised using alternatives to words commonly used for vaccination. One such example would be the use of the word pisil (pinch) instead of turok (inject) to allay the child's fears.

Prepare important documents before vaccination day

The DOH advises parents to prepare identification documents for their children so it will be ready come vaccination day, and to prevent any inconvenience.

Dr. Razel Nikka Hao, head of the agency's Disease Control and Prevention Bureau, said a birth certificate is a good document to bring, whether it's an original or a certified true copy.

Valid ID cards or documents with photo of the parent or guardian and the vaccine recipient may also be brought in lieu of a birth certificate. Informed consent forms, assent forms, and health declaration forms will also be made available on site.

The DOH also said children with underlying illnesses should secure clearance from their doctors first before getting vaccinated.

Give children support and praise for getting vaccinated

Tayag said one of the most important tasks of parents or guardians is to watch over their children during vaccination day.

He said finding ways to distract the child when they are about to be pinched is a good idea, such as asking them to close their eyes. However, he said children may also cry during the procedure, so he advises parents to be ready and patient in dealing with their child's experience.

Tayag also suggested having an ice pack ready to ease any pain the child might experience after the shot.

Once through, Tayag said it's important to give the child a small gift or token to bring comfort and joy after their vaccination experience.

"Hindi ito suhol ha. Talagang bibigyan natin sila ng bagay na maari pong ikatuwa nila (This is not a bribe. We should give them something to make them happy)," Tayag said.

He also noted that once the child experiences something distressing during the first shot, the child may hesitate to go back for another dose. In such case, it is important for parents to be patient and find creative ways in making children understand that completing their doses is essential to reduce the chances of them being hospitalized for COVID-19.

As with any trip outdoors - make sure the child wears a mask.

Monitor, monitor, monitor

Once home, Tayag said parents should monitor their children's condition.

He listed down guidelines set by the US Center for Disease Control, which states that people should contact their healthcare provider if the redness or tenderness where one gets the shot, or if the child's side effects are not going away after a few days.

Dr. Hao also reiterated that government help may be given in case of adverse events following immunization, or hospitalization packages through state health insurer PhilHealth. Experts also urged parents to teach children to follow minimum public health standards at all times, and to also follow up on immunization schedules for other illnesses.