December 6, 2023

COVID-19 Vaccines for Kids: What To Know and Why It’s Important

Children as young as 6 months should get vaccinated

Baby receiving a shot in their leg by healthcare worker in pink

Respiratory season marks a dangerous time for kids, one filled with fevers, sore throats and airborne viruses running amok. The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza (the flu) peak during this period with regularity, but COVID-19 infections are also continuing to rise and fall with each and every respiratory season.

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So, it’s not only logical but a necessary precaution to make sure your kids are vaccinated against all these viruses to keep them out of the hospital and from experiencing serious illness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends anyone over the age of 6 months get the latest updated vaccine for COVID-19 even if they’ve been previously infected or have had previous versions of the vaccine.

Why? Because COVID-19 is still dangerous, especially for those who are young, older or immunocompromised.

As parents, we want the best for our kids. So, it’s only natural that we might have a lot of questions about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for kids and how and when they should get them.

“It’s safe for children to get this vaccine, and they’re going to have much better ongoing protection from future virus infections,” says pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano, MD.

COVID-19 vaccine safety — is it safe for my child?

Yes — the most current, updated COVID-19 vaccines are safe for your child if they’re older than 6 months of age. Specific guidelines on how many doses of the updated COVID-19 vaccine your child should get vary based on their age and whether or not they’ve had previous COVID-19 vaccines before September 12, 2023.

If you’re unsure whether or not your kid is up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines, you should call your healthcare provider or check the CDC’s current COVID-19 vaccine guidelines to make sure none of the following has changed:

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  • Children 6 months to 4 years are up-to-date when they get at least one updated COVID-19 vaccine in one of the following formats:
    – Three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
    – Two doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Kids 5 and older are up-to-date when they get one updated Pfizer-BioNTech or one updated Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Kids 12 and older who are unable or choose not to get a recommended mRNA vaccine are up-to-date when they get:
    – Two doses of the updated Novavax COVID-19 vaccine if they are unvaccinated.
    – One updated Novavax COVID-19 vaccine if they’ve had previous COVID-19 vaccines.

“These vaccines are effective at reducing severe disease risks and are safe,” states Dr. Giuliano. “The updated vaccine provides additional protection against the strains that are currently circulating.”

COVID-19 vaccine risks and side effects

Like with any other vaccine or immunization, your child may experience some mild side effects that include:

  • Fever.
  • Fussiness.
  • Sleepiness
  • Redness at the injection site (their thigh).
  • Swelling.

If you’re seeing that your infant or young child is experiencing any of these symptoms — trouble sleeping, fussiness, signs of pain — Dr. Giuliano recommends allowing it to run its course and focusing on providing comfort care at home. The key is keeping an eye on your little one and monitoring any changes in their symptoms.

“The good news is that we can treat these side effects with tender love and care and extra hugs from parents,” reassures Dr. Giuliano. “And if those symptoms are starting to interfere with sleeping and eating, that’s when a dose of something like baby Tylenol® could be considered.”

More serious side effects like allergic reactions and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) are fortunately extremely rare. Serious problems from COVID-19 are more likely than serious problems from the vaccine.

How to get COVID-19 vaccines for your child

Contact your pediatrician or primary care provider to set up an appointment or check for walk-in, same-day availability for COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines are also widely available where other vaccines are administered (like your local drug store). If you’re still unsure of where to go, the CDC has created a handy tool that allows you to search for local and regional vaccine availability.

Can children get a flu shot or other vaccines at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine?

If you’re already thinking about gearing up protection against the flu, RSV or any other routine immunizations, there shouldn’t be an issue with including the COVID-19 vaccines into your child’s schedule.

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“It’s fine to give COVID-19 vaccines alongside other routine immunizations. They can be given on the same day or a few days apart. There’s no specific spacing that we have to be concerned with,” says Dr. Giuliano.

Why should my child receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Kids are still at risk for hospitalization, and there have been more than 1,000 reported deaths among kids under the age of 18 from COVID-19 since its beginning. Even if your little one has already been infected with COVID-19, you still want to ensure they get vaccinated because kids are more at risk for getting multiple infections at a time and/or back-to-back illnesses.

“What we’ve seen is that as the virus changes, unvaccinated individuals — kids and adults — are more susceptible to future outbreaks and complications from the disease,” explains Dr. Giuliano. “Getting COVID-19 once doesn’t mean you won’t get it again.”

One of the main concerns is babies and young children developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) because of COVID-19. In addition, your child may also get long COVID, where symptoms linger and persist for several weeks or months at a time.

“Anyone who’s taking care of a child through a short illness knows how challenging that could be,” says Dr. Giuliano. “That’s why it’s important to help our kids avoid getting serious cases of COVID-19.”

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