COVID vaccine for children under age 5 arrives in Michigan this week; what to know

Doses of the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine for infants and preschoolers are available at some pediatric practices in Michigan, but many providers won't receive shipments until later this week or haven't completed procedures to administer the vaccine.

The Henry Ford Health System, Beaumont Health and Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor were expecting shipments to arrive early this week and said they were gearing up to provide the shots by the end of the week. 

In West Michigan, officials with the 14-hospital Spectrum Health system said shipments of the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had already been delivered prior to federal approvals that were handed down Friday and Saturday, clearing the way for babies and toddlers to get vaccinated.  

Spectrum officials said the health system worked feverishly over the weekend to fine-tune procedures and were ready to start vaccinating kids on Monday. 

Salem Sloan, right, 19 months, risks serious illness from COVID-19 due to a heart condition. Her mom, Erin Sloan of Southgate, left, said she wants Salem and brother Clark, 4, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.

Erin and Charlie Sloan of Southgate, both 32, were anxiously awaiting the vaccine to protect their 19-month-old daughter, Salem, who has a heart defect. The couple shop online and take other steps to protect their daughter from infection, because even a mild illness could turn into a life-threatening situation for the baby. 

The family, which includes 4-year-old Clark, who will soon be attending preschool, was looking forward to the added protection of a vaccine. But after multiple phone calls, the mom was unable to find a provider as of Tuesday that both had a supply of doses and was already administering the vaccine.

"I was really hoping they’d have a plan or signups, but they don’t know when they’re getting it," Erin said of the providers she called. "I wonder why we have not had the urgency that we had with the adults' vaccine.

"COVID is still a big threat, especially with our youngest most vulnerable population."

For parents looking to vaccinate their children, here's what to know: 

What COVID vaccines are available?

The federal Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization on Friday for a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and for the Moderna vaccine. The vaccines were green lighted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday. 

Pfizer's vaccine is for children ages 6 months to 4 years old. The dose is one-tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given three weeks apart, and the last at least two months later.

Moderna's vaccine is for children 6 months to 5 years old and is two shots, each a quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart. The FDA approved a third dose, at least a month after the second shot, for kids with immune conditions.

While the FDA approves vaccines, it’s the CDC that decides who should get them.

How well do the vaccines work? 

The shots offer young children protection from hospitalization, death and possible long-term complications that are still not clearly understood, the CDC’s advisory panel said.

The government had already been gearing up for the vaccine expansion, with millions of doses ordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics around the country. Still, some parents remain undecided about whether to get the shots for tiny children, some as young as six months of age. 

"I am still on the fence about vaccinating my daughter," said Alyssa English, 27, of Dearborn, who is the parent of a 9-month-old girl. "I think I would like to maybe just wait a few months before I make that decision just because I want to make the most informed decision for my baby, because she doesn't have a say."

About 1 in 5, or 18% of  parents with children under 5 interviewed in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll said they would have their preschoolers vaccinated as soon as a COVID-19 vaccination was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

Another 38% said they would "wait and see," while 28% said they would definitely not have their children vaccinated, and 11% said their kids under age 5 would get the shot "only if required."

KFF surveyed a nationally representative random sample of 1,889 adults by cellphone and landline between April 13 and April 26. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points. 

Dr. Bishara Freij, chief of pediatric infectious disease at the eight-hospital Beaumont Health system, said parents shouldn't fall for the idea that COVID-19 isn't dangerous for kids.  

"They do die from it," Freij said. "And they do spread it as well. So the fact that it's less deadly in children, doesn't mean it's not deadly. Or serious.

"So it is in everybody's interest to seriously consider vaccinating their kids who will qualify," she added.  "There's not like one thing that tells you that your child will be OK while the other child won't be."

Mott Children's Hospital on Thursday will answer parent's questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Get more information here.

How soon can I get my child vaccinated?

While shipments of the vaccine were expected to arrive at vaccine sites as early as Monday, many providers will need additional time to prepare to administer the shots, said Lynn Sutfin, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. 

"(T)hey will need to have time to train staff on this new vaccine and begin setting up appointments and/or walk-ins, so it may be a few days before providers have information loaded into a vaccine finder and are ready to begin vaccinating," Sutfin said. 

The five-hospital Henry Ford Health System was still working on Monday to adapt their electronic medical records system to the new vaccine.

"We just need to build the final piece of our electronic medical record that will allow us to put in an order for a vaccine," said Kim North Shine, a spokeswoman for Henry Ford Health.

"We can't start doing that until FDA approval, and that was late last week." 

What are the potential side effects? 

Dr. Dennis Cunningham, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases and medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health System, said side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are similar to the experience of older children who've received the vaccine. 

"The side effect profile was really very well tolerated," Cunningham said of the clinical trials. "Not much different than older kids.

"You can get some fever, some kids may feel aches and pains, but overall, (these are) very safe vaccines, very effective vaccines with very promising data."

According to the CDC, younger children may experience fewer side effects than teens or young adults. 

For children 3 years and younger, side effects may include:

  • Pain where the shot was given
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Irritability or crying
  • Sleepiness
  • Loss of appetite

Children 4 years and older could experience these side effects:

  • Pain, swelling, and redness in the arm where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Where can parents take their children to get vaccinated?

Parents can find vaccines at local health departments, Federally Qualified Health Centers, private provider offices and pharmacies, said Sutfin with the state health department. 

Pharmacies will be vaccinating children ages 3 and up in Michigan; parents will need to call first to see if the pharmacy has received the vaccine, Sutfin added. 

The Oakland County Health Division said vaccine appointments will be available starting Wednesday. People can schedule an appointment by visiting or by calling 800-848-5533.

More than 400,000 additional Michigan children now are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. State health officials noted that children can get infected with COVID-19 and even though they may be asymptomatic, spread the virus to people at high risk in their homes, schools and communities.

“Being able to vaccinate children ages 6 months and up with safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines is a significant milestone that brings us hope and protects our littlest Michiganders,” Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan's chief medical executive, said in a press release. 

“Healthy children in this age group can still get sick with COVID-19 – not just those with underlying conditions," Bagdasarian added. "These vaccines have been shown to be effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and disease, while protecting our children and families."

Staff Writer Hannah Mackay and the Associated Press contributed.