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When can kids get the COVID-19 vaccine? Some now, some later

Children age 12 and over are now eligible to get the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, but younger kids have to wait.

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So far, most adverse responses to the coronavirus vaccine have been allergic reactions that were treated immediately by medical professionals.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The number of COVID-19 vaccines being administered in the US has significantly increased since mid-January, with the help of President Joe Biden's executive orders that released nearly all the coronavirus vaccines for use. On May 10, the FDA granted Pfizer emergency use authorization to administer vaccines to children as young as 12 years old, widening the net on who can get a shot. As of now, 115,530,780 Americans are fully vaccinated

Below, we'll share what we know about other groups of people who may not be vaccinated yet, or who may face certain risks. For the sweeping majority of folks, vaccines from PfizerModerna and Johnson & Johnson have been shown to be safe. However, just like with any new drug, doctors encourage caution when taking coronavirus vaccines, especially for people who have had adverse reactions to vaccinations in the past. 

For example, one standard safety measure with the coronavirus vaccines involves remaining on-site for a period of time after getting the injection. That's to give medical professionals time to monitor for any adverse reactions, but it doesn't mean doctors expect anything bad to happen. Only a small amount of people have had allergic or other kinds of reactions.

Here, we compile available data from the FDA, WHO and CDC, along with information from leading health experts on who is advised to take the COVID-19 vaccine and who should contact a medical professional first. 

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If you have a history of allergies, you may be asked to wait 15 to 30 minutes after you've been given the vaccine so medical staff can observe you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When will a coronavirus vaccine be available for kids?

Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is now authorized for emergency use in adolescents as young as 12. Previously, anyone aged 16 and older could get it. Pfizer is the only vaccine authorized right now for children of any age -- Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are both designated for those 18 and older. 

Vaccines are typically tested first in adults before researchers begin tests in children, once the drug has been found to be relatively safe. After analyzing data from 2,260 research participants, ages 12 to 15, Pfizer and the FDA have determined that it's safe and effective to give the vaccine to children 12 and up.

Moderna expects to have its label expanded for the vaccine to cover those aged 12 to 17 years old by this summer. For now, it's undetermined when the COVID-19 vaccine will be tested in children aged 11 and younger.

What if you're pregnant or nursing? Is the vaccine safe for you?

If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, the FDA leaves the decision over whether to take either of the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines to you and your doctor -- however, the WHO doesn't recommend pregnant women get vaccinated at this time. Up to this point, regulators in the UK have recommended against it until the vaccines are proven safe for pregnant and nursing women. 

On Feb. 18, Pfizer announced it had started clinical trials to evaluate the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women. The first set of participants have received their first doses.

A boy wears a handmade mask to try to reduce transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Moderna has announced it will be the first coronavirus vaccine maker to test its vaccine on children aged 12 through 17.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Should people with allergies get the coronavirus vaccine?

In the UK, on the first day of administering the Pfizer vaccine, doctors observed two patients who experienced severe allergic reactions to the drug. British doctors are being told to monitor patients for 15 minutes following administration of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the US, from Dec. 21, 2020, to Jan. 10, 2021, there were 10 detected cases of anaphylaxis after administration of more than 4 million first doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine -- or roughly 2.5 cases per million doses administered, according to the CDC. (There are now over 63.1 million people in the US who have been vaccinated now.) 

The FDA says that complications are rare and that some people might have an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccines, like anaphylaxis or tissue swelling, from both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine. Some scientists are investigating whether the cause is an ingredient in the vaccine -- but not the COVID-19 mRNA itself -- that could be triggering some reactions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"CDC recommends that people with a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medications -- such as allergies to food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex -- may still get vaccinated," the agency says on its COVID-19 Vaccines and Severe Allergic Reactions page.     

The FDA has published a fact sheet on the Pfizer vaccine and a separate fact sheet on the Moderna one. Both publications caution: "A severe allergic reaction would usually occur within a few minutes to one hour after getting a dose..." Both sheets then list several signs and symptoms of such an allergic reaction:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the face and throat
  • A fast heartbeat
  • A full-body rash 
  • Dizziness and weakness

If you have a history of allergies, you can expect to be monitored for 15 to 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine.

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If you're allergic to any of the ingredients in either Pfizer's or Moderna's coronavirus vaccine, the FDA advises you not to take it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The World Health Organization says "people with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine should not take it." The FDA also recommends you should not take the Pfizer vaccine if you've ever had a severe reaction to any of these ingredients:

  • Messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA)
  • Lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate) 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol)
  • Potassium chloride
  • Monobasic potassium phosphate
  • Sodium chloride
  • Dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate
  • Sucrose

The FDA similarly recommends avoiding Moderna's vaccine if you're allergic to any of its ingredients:

  • mRNA
  • Lipids (SM-102, polyethylene glycol [PEG] 2000 dimyristoyl glycerol [DMG], cholesterol, and 1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC])
  • Tromethamine
  • Tromethamine hydrochloride
  • Acetic acid
  • Sodium acetate
  • Sucrose

You might still be able to get a vaccine even if you've experienced allergic reactions to vaccinations in the past. In its most up-to-date guidance, the CDC echoes the FDA by indicating that just because you've had a severe allergic reaction to having been vaccinated in the past, it shouldn't automatically stop you from being vaccinated against COVID-19. 

"These persons may still receive the vaccination, but they should be counseled about the unknown risks of developing a severe allergic reaction and balance these risks against the benefits of vaccination," the CDC says on its website

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Until most people in the US have been vaccinated, you can expect everyone to continue social distancing, avoiding crowds and wearing masks in public.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How will you be protected against the coronavirus if you can't take a vaccine?

If you're a patient with a health condition who is advised against getting a COVID-19 vaccine by your physician, you may have to wait until enough people have been vaccinated in the US to be protected yourself. Even if you yourself don't take a vaccine, being surrounded by enough vaccinated people -- what's known as "herd immunity" -- can provide a measure of protection against the coronavirus. But that will take time. It may require as much as 90% of the population to become immune to the disease before those who are still susceptible might be considered safe.

To usher along that process, the best thing you can do for now is to follow the CDC's safety guidelines: wear a mask whenever you're indoors (except in your own home), wear a mask in public, avoid large crowds and maintain at least six feet of distance from people you don't live with. 

It's going to take time before life returns to normal. To get a sense of how long, take a look at this timeline of when different groups will be able to take the COVID-19 vaccine. There will likely be more coronavirus vaccines rolling out over the next several months, and which one you'll take will also help determine when you get to take it. Finally, here's our updated list of places where you can get the vaccine.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.