May 10, 2021, 8:04:15 PM CDT Sep 22, 2023, 1:54:31 PM CDT

COVID-19 vaccine and children

An infectious disease expert answers common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for kids

Mom holding daughter while getting a shot Mom holding daughter while getting a shot

The COVID‑19 vaccine is approved for children ages 6 months and older. In September 2023, the FDA approved updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to provide better protection during the fall and winter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the new vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Many parents may have questions or feel uncertain about getting their child vaccinated.

"I understand parents' potential anxiety," says Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern. "There is always going to be some hesitancy to a new vaccine given to children. This is what we have found, historically, with a variety of vaccines that are now routinely used in kids, such as the chickenpox vaccine. But now, we rarely see a child with chickenpox."

Dr. Kahn reminds parents that there are many benefits of getting the COVID‑19 vaccine. He answers some common questions about the COVID‑19 vaccine for kids to help parents feel confident and informed about their decision.

Is the COVID‑19 vaccine for children different than the vaccine for adults?

The COVID‑19 vaccines for children are the same vaccines approved for adults. However, children will receive a smaller dose of the vaccine. This smaller dose is due to the development of a child's immune system, not based on a child's size or weight.

Is the COVID‑19 vaccine safe for children?

The COVID‑19 vaccine is both safe and effective in children. Safety is a top priority for the vaccine, and the FDA's approval is based on these safe results.

"These vaccines are very well-tolerated, and millions of doses have been given safely so far," Dr. Kahn says.

While acknowledging potential concerns, Dr. Kahn hopes parents will review trustworthy information about the safety and importance of getting the COVID‑19 vaccine for their kids. Doing this research can help dispel common myths about the vaccine.

Why should I vaccinate my child if their risk from COVID‑19 is low?

While the risk of severe COVID‑19 in children is lower compared to adults, that risk is not zero. In this situation, Dr. Kahn encourages parents to examine the risks and benefits of vaccinating their children for COVID‑19 versus potentially catching COVID‑19.

"The risk of severe disease or complications due to COVID‑19 is higher than any potential risks posed by the vaccine – even for kids," he says. "Given this and the benefits of vaccination, I hope parents will see the importance of vaccinating their children."

What are the benefits of vaccinating children for COVID‑19?

The COVID‑19 vaccine is very effective at preventing severe illness from COVID‑19. Benefits of vaccinating children against COVID‑19 include:

  1. Protecting children from illness: While children are at lower risk of severe illness from COVID‑19, they are not immune to illness. Highly contagious variants drastically increase the number of COVID‑19 cases in children, and unvaccinated children were hospitalized at higher rates than vaccinated children. In addition, the long-term effects of COVID‑19 in children are still being studied. In some people, COVID‑19 has caused long-lasting symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty breathing, joint pain and even depression and anxiety. COVID‑19 has also been linked to cases of a rare, potentially serious condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).
  2. Protecting the community: Children can and do get infected with COVID‑19, and they can and do spread the virus to others. From a community health standpoint, it's very important to have children vaccinated.

    "This is a very contagious virus, and we need a high level of immunity to stop its spread," explains Dr. Kahn. "Children under 18 represent about a quarter of the U.S. population. We are never going to achieve herd immunity if we don't immunize children."

    This is especially important for protecting high-risk individuals. "If someone in your household has a weakened immune system, you want to make sure everybody around them is immunized," he explains.

  3. Protecting children against new COVID‑19 variants: Stopping the spread of COVID‑19 is extremely important in stopping new variants from emerging. The more the virus spreads from person to person, the more chance it has to mutate into a potentially more infectious or dangerous strain.

    "If we can stop the circulation of the virus through immunization, we're going to reduce the likelihood that more virulent viruses emerge," Dr. Kahn says. "Getting children vaccinated is key to having this happen."

Are there side effects of the COVID‑19 vaccine in children?

Children may experience some of the same COVID‑19 vaccine side effects reported in adults, including:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the arm near the shot site
  • Tiredness

These side effects may be more common after subsequent doses and are a sign that your body is building protection. Side effects typically go away within 1-2 days after vaccination.

Is the COVID‑19 vaccine safe for children with chronic health conditions?

The COVID‑19 vaccine is safe and recommended for children with chronic health conditions.

Children with underlying medical conditions – including obesity, diabetes, sickle cell disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease and more – may be more likely to get severely ill if they get COVID‑19. Therefore, it's even more important that these children receive the vaccine.

Should my child get the COVID‑19 vaccine if they already had COVID‑19?

Yes, your child should get the COVID‑19 vaccine even if they already had COVID‑19. Studies have shown that the vaccines can trigger a COVID‑19 immune response stronger than the one naturally present in people who had COVID‑19.

"What's striking from the data is that the vaccine is doing a better job than nature in terms of inducing immunity," Dr. Kahn says.

As a result, Dr. Kahn says children who have already had COVID‑19 should get the vaccine, as it will help boost their immune response and ensure they are protected.

Will my child need to get a yearly shot for COVID‑19?

The CDC recommends that everyone who is eligible should get the COVID‑19 vaccine on a routine basis, including children ages 6 months and older. Staying up to date on your vaccinations is the best way to prevent serious COVID‑19 illness.

Where can my child get the COVID‑19 vaccine?

Children can get a COVID‑19 vaccine at their pediatrician's office, or at a variety of community clinics and pharmacies. Contact your child's health care provider to ask about vaccine availability.

Dr. Kahn hopes parents on the fence about getting their kids the COVID‑19 vaccine will consider the many benefits of the shot – in terms of their own family's protection from COVID‑19 as well as protection for their community.

Many parents have questions or feel uncertain about getting their child vaccinated against COVID-19. An infectious disease expert at Children's Health answers common questions to help parents navigate their decision.

Learn more

Children's Health Primary Care offers comprehensive health care for children from birth through young adulthood. Our pediatricians combine quality care with evidence-based practice to meet your child’s medical needs. Learn more and find a pediatrician.

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