COVID-19 vaccines are used to prepare the body's immune system to protect against COVID-19. These vaccines are a vital tool to help stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
Children and teenagers ages 6 months to 17 years should get a COVID-19 vaccination. Getting a vaccine will help prevent your child from getting COVID-19. It will also help prevent the spread of the disease and help protect your family and the community.
COVID-19 vaccines protect people from getting COVID-19. These vaccines "teach" your child's body how to defend against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.
WHY CHILDREN AND TEENS SHOULD GET VACCINATED
It's true that most children and teens are at lower risk from becoming very sick from COVID-19. But low risk does not mean no risk. Children and teens can:
- Become infected with COVID-19
- Become seriously ill from COVID-19 and need to be hospitalized
- Have serious short- and long-term effects or complications from COVID-19
- Die from COVID-19, although this is very rare
- Spread COVID-19 to others, including those at risk for serious illness, such as grandparents
Children with underlying medical conditions are more at risk for severe illness from COVID-19. So, vaccination is very important to help protect against the virus.
There are many good reasons to have your child or teen get a COVID-19 vaccination:
- It will protect other people in the family at risk for serious illness from COVID-19.
- It will protect your child from serious illness if they do get COVID-19.
- It will allow your child to safely resume most activities, such as going to school, playing sports or other after-school activities, having playdates, and just spending time with groups of children.
ABOUT COVID-19 VACCINES FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS
Children ages 6 months to 17 years can get either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccine.
- COVID-19 mRNA vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to tell cells in the body how to briefly create a harmless piece of "spike" protein that is unique to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Cells then get rid of the mRNA.
- This "spike" protein triggers an immune response inside the body, making antibodies that protect against COVID-19. Your child's immune system then learns to attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus if they are ever exposed to it.
The COVID-19 vaccine given to children and teens has the same active ingredients as the vaccine given to adults. Dosage is based on the child's age on the day of vaccination. It is not based on the child's size or weight.
- Children ages 6 months to 4 years can receive 3 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or 2 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
- Children ages 5 to 17 years can receive 2 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or 2 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
- The Novavax vaccine is a protein subunit vaccine.
- The vaccine includes harmless pieces of the “spike” protein that is typical of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes causesCOVID-19.
- The vaccine triggers the body to develop antibodies to protect you from the virus.
It takes time for your child's immune system to start protecting them after receiving the vaccine. Children are considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after receiving the last shot in the vaccine series.
- DO NOT contain any live virus, and they cannot give children COVID-19
- DO NOT affect or interfere with children's genes (DNA)
- DO NOT affect or interfere with fertility or future fertility in children
To get up-to-date accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website:
- Vaccines for COVID-19 - www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html
- Myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines - www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html
VACCINE SIDE EFFECTS
While COVID-19 vaccines will not make children sick, they may cause certain side effects and flu-like symptoms. This is normal. These symptoms are a sign that your child’s body is making antibodies against the virus. Common side effects include:
- Pain, redness, or swelling on the arm where they got the shot
- Muscle pain
Side effects from the shot may affect your child's ability to do daily activities, but they will go away in a few days. Even if your child has side effects, they should get the second shot. Any side effects from the vaccine are far less dangerous than the potential for serious illness or death from COVID-19.
HOW TO GET THE VACCINE
COVID-19 vaccines are available to all children living in the United States at no cost. Children can get this free shot regardless of their immigration or health insurance status.
There are several ways to find vaccination providers near you.
- Ask your child's health care provider if they offer COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens.
- Check your local pharmacy's website or call them to see if they offer vaccines for children and teens.
- Contact your local health department.
- Go to the CDC VaccineFinder.
- Text your zip code to 438829 or call 1-800-232-0233 to find vaccine locations near you.
The safety of vaccines is the top priority, and COVID-19 vaccines for children have passed rigorous safety standards before approval. They continue to be closely monitored to ensure they are safe and effective.
Serious health events from COVID-19 vaccines, such as an allergic reaction, are rare.
Rare cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) have been reported in children and teens ages 5 years and older after getting the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine.
- This reaction has tended to occur more often in male adolescents and young adults ages 12 to 39 years.
- It occurs more often after the second dose, usually a few days after vaccination. Studies show that this rare risk may be reduced with a longer time between the first and second dose.
- With proper care and rest, most people who had the reaction got better quickly.
- For people who had this rare reaction, it is important to talk with a cardiologist (heart doctor) about how and when to return to exercise and sports.
Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Fast-beating heart, fluttering, or pounding heart
If your child or teenager has any of these symptoms, get medical help right away.
To learn more about COVID-19 vaccine safety, go to the CDC website:
- Ensuring COVID-19 Vaccine Safety in the United States -- www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety.html
- V-Safe After Vaccination Health Checker -- www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/vsafe.html
VACCINE BOOSTER SHOTS
Over time, COVID-19 vaccines appear to become less protective against the virus. Getting a booster dose helps provide additional protection against COVID-19. As a result, Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster shots are now recommended for all children ages 6 months to 17 years at least 2 months after receiving the first series of shots.
The CDC has further information about COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
WHAT CHILDREN CAN DO ONCE FULLY VACCINATED
We are still learning how well vaccines help prevent COVID-19 from spreading and how long the protection they provide lasts. Until more is known, using vaccines, masks, and taking other steps to help protect others is the best way to stay safe and healthy.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Stay up to date with covid-19 vaccines including boosters. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/stay-up-to-date.html. Updated February 27, 2023. Accessed February 27, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Myocarditis and pericarditis after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/myocarditis.html. Updated September 27, 2022. Accessed January 25, 2023.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Myths and facts about COVID-19 vaccines. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html. Updated February 16, 2023. Accessed February 27, 2023.
Fleming-Dutra KE, Wallace M, Moulia DL, et al. Interim Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for Use of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccines in Children Aged 6 Months-5 Years - United States, June 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71:859-868. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7126e2.htm. Accessed January 25, 2023.
Fowlkes AL, Yoon SK, Lutrick K, et al. Effectiveness of 2-Dose BNT162b2 (Pfizer BioNTech) mRNA Vaccine in Preventing SARS-CoV-2 Infection Among Children Aged 5-11 Years and Adolescents Aged 12-15 Years - PROTECT Cohort, July 2021-February 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(11):422-428. PMID: 35298453 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35298453/.
Review Date 2/22/2023
Updated by: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.