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Nurses Prepare for COVID-19 Vaccination for Children

Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Updated August 29, 2022
    Nurses and nurse practitioners will play a pivotal role in administering the COVID-19 vaccine for children. Find out what to expect and how to educate communities on the new rollout.
    Credit: Getty Images

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    Children between the ages of 5 and 11 are now eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Pharmacists, pediatricians, nurses, and nurse practitioners will start administering the vaccine in the following weeks.

    Children will receive two vaccine shots 21 days apart. The dose for children is one-third of the adolescent and adult dose.

    Nurses play a key role in administering and educating families on the COVID-19 vaccine. Beyond highlighting the role of nurses, this article explains how nurses can prepare for this rollout and offers advice on navigating vaccine hesitancy among parents and caregivers.

    The Importance of COVID-19 Vaccines for Children

    The COVID-19 vaccine for children offers parents and guardians a sign of relief. This vaccine will protect children’s health and the health of their teachers. It can prevent the spread of COVID-19 to vulnerable families and friends.

    “It also further supports public health and well-being by helping to restore full access to in-person learning and the school-based nutrition programs that many families depend on,” says Dr. Shanika Boyce, a pediatrician and assistant professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science’s College of Medicine.

    Vaccines for children have been used throughout history to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases among school-aged children. It has effectively eliminated:

    • Measles
    • Mumps
    • Rubella
    • Other dangerous and highly contagious diseases among children

    “We now have the opportunity to do the same for this generation,” says Boyce.

    The Role of Nurses and the COVID-19 Vaccine for Children

    The rollout of the vaccine for children was carefully tested, studied, and reviewed for effectiveness and safety in children. Once clinical trials were completed in October, drug companies asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve emergency use of the vaccine for children in the 5-11 age group.

    The entire process took about four weeks while drug companies, healthcare providers, and eager parents and guardians waited for the green light from the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other CDC advisory panels.

    The vaccine was made available for children at the beginning of November. The White House estimates close to 1 million children have already received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

    [The COVID-19 vaccine] will help protect this age group and contribute to reduced COVID-19 rates in the community,” says Boyce.

    Nurses Anticipate Changes in Workflow and Patient Education

    Distributing the vaccine won’t come without challenges. Healthcare professionals should expect an increase in questions and numbers of patients.

    “This increase in volume will likely lead to workflow changes for nurses in clinics and hospitals to ensure safe storage, handling, and administration of the vaccines,” says Boyce.

    Healthcare workers will also have the added responsibility to increase awareness — nurses especially. As trusted healthcare professionals, nurses can become more active in engaging with the community by:

    • Answering frequently asked questions on the vaccine
    • Taking part in public service announcements
    • Participating in news stories to promote patient knowledge
    • Knowing the facts about nurses and immunizations for children

    Educating is especially important for under-resourced or underserved communities most vulnerable to COVID-19 infections, complications, and mortality.

    Vaccine Impacts on School Nurses

    The vaccine rollout will impact school nurses significantly as they play a critical role in advocating and educating parents, guardians, teachers, and school administration. The CDC states the goal of the COVID-19 vaccination program is to make the vaccine available in schools so they are easily accessible. School nurses should anticipate more conversations about COVID-19 vaccines.

    The school nurses’ role is to understand both the needs of the community and the school. The National Association for School Nurses believes school nurses should consider:

    • Options for vaccine vendors if school leadership supports the COVID-19 vaccine
    • Legalities for vaccine clinics
    • A process for children’s legal consent
    • Partnerships with state and local public health departments to prepare safe, successful vaccination clinics
    • Education and parent/guardian outreach

    School nurses distributing the vaccine at designated school district sites across the U.S. should prepare for changes in workflow like making sure of storage conditions and how to carry out the administration of the vaccines.

    Vaccine Impacts on Pediatric Nurses

    Parents and caregivers will look to pediatric nurses as trusted sources of information.

    Vaccine impact on pediatric nurses will be more focused on patient education. Pediatric nurses should be prepared to:

    • Combat hesitancy
    • Answer general questions
    • Offer details on the safety of the vaccine trials
    • Explain side effects

    How Nurses Can Prepare for the Rollout

    With nurses experiencing burnout, rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine for children is another addition to their responsibilities. Nurses can plan for the rollout by preparing to talk with parents and caregivers about the vaccine. The CDC offers resources that can help guide the conversation:

    Educating patients and family members on the COVID-19 vaccine for children will allow parents and caregivers to make informed decisions.

    “It is important for nurses to feel comfortable and confident providing patient education to parents and families about the COVID-19 virus and vaccines,” says Boyce, “and encourage them to have further conversations with their child’s primary care provider.”

    check-circleKnow the Facts: Child COVID-19 Vaccine

    For nurses: This information can be shared with parents and guardians during educational moments to help reduce vaccine hesitancy and promote further conversations with primary care providers.

    1. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is currently the only vaccine approved by the FDA for emergency use in children ages 5-11.

    2. The current dose of the COVID-19 vaccine given to children ages 5-11 is one-third the dose given to the 12 and up age group.

    3. The Pfizer vaccine trials enrolled 4,600 participants ages 5-11, where 3,100 received the vaccine.

    4. It is 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in this age group.

    5. The side effects, which resolve within 1-2 days, are comparable to adults. Major symptoms include:

    • Pain
    • Redness
    • Swelling at the injection site
    • Fevers
    • Chills
    • Fatigue
    • Headaches

    6. Overall, the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis is low compared to the benefit of protection provided by the vaccine. Males ages 12-17 have the highest rates, particularly after the second dose of the vaccine. They typically recover well with treatment.

    Source: FDA

    How Nurses Navigate Vaccine Hesitancy

    Vaccine hesitancy for children is expected. Hesitancy, while understandable, can be a major hurdle for healthcare workers to educate parents when they opt out of receiving the vaccine. Although safe and effective, the vaccine is still new and being monitored closely for side effects.

    Nurses can anticipate and prepare for vaccine hesitancy. Parents, caregivers, and family members continue to have concerns about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines for children.

    “Knowledge and education are therefore key,” she says. “Frequent conversations and the provision of credible trusted health information to parents and family members will help to reduce vaccine hesitancy.”

    Other strategies include healthcare providers having the following:

    • Increased understanding of COVID-19 illness severity, complications, and morbidity in children
    • Knowledge of vaccine safety and efficacy from trials
    • Ability to distinguish between facts and myths

    Advice From Nurses for Parents Feeling Hesitant

    If a parent or caregiver is feeling hesitant about the vaccine, offer reassuring advice. Nurses need to meet parents and caregivers where they are.

    Nurses should always make sure to have an open mind and open communication with no judgment.

    For parents and caregivers feeling hesitant, Boyce offers this advice:

    • If you feel hesitant about getting your child vaccinated, engage in conversations with the child’s nurses and primary care providers to address your questions and concerns.
    • Remember: Routine vaccines children receive currently have protected them for decades against deadly diseases such as polio, measles, mumps, and rubella.
    • The COVID-19 vaccine will similarly protect children in this pandemic against the deadly effects of the COVID-19 virus.