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October 17, 2022

I'm a parent or caregiver. What should I know about vaccines for children and teens?

The answers on this site were developed with and vetted by the CDC

In the United States, everyone ages 6 months and older can now get vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that all eligible children get vaccinated as soon as they can. Additionally, booster shots have been authorized for all kids age 5 and older..

For children under the age of 5, the CDC has authorized two separate vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna for this age group. The Pfizer vaccine, for ages 6 months to 5 years old, comes in a 3 shot series with the first two doses being taken 3 weeks apart, followed by the 3rd which is administered at least 8 weeks after the second dose. Meanwhile, the Moderna vaccine, for ages 6 months to 6 years old, comes in a 2 dose series with each dose taken 4 weeks apart.

Additionally, a Pfizer vaccine is authorized for children ages 5 to 11 while a Moderna vaccine is authorized for children and teens ages 6 to 17. Research has found that it protects kids against serious illness from COVID-19 and known variants. Clinical trials included thousands of children who were monitored by experts to ensure the vaccines were safe. As of July 2022, millions of kids ages 5 and up have already received at least one dose since vaccines were authorized for kids in this age group, while hundreds of thousands of kids ages 6 months to 4 years old have received their first doses since being authorized in June 2022.

It is also safe for children to get a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as other shots such as the flu vaccine.

COVID-19 vaccines are free of charge for anyone living in the United States.

COVID-19 Vaccine Checklist for Kids Age 5 and Up (AAP)

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How do COVID-19 vaccines work for kids?

The COVID-19 vaccine works similarly to other vaccines your child may have had. Germs such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, invade and multiply inside the body. The vaccine stops this by teaching the immune system to recognize and make antibodies to fight the virus. After being immunized, kids will have strong protection against serious illness from COVID-19.

For kids ages 6 months to 11 years, it’s important to note that the doses of each vaccine are actually smaller than the amount that an adult would receive. Clinical trials found that smaller doses created a strong immune response in kids while helping ensure safety, and already hundreds of thousands of children under 5 have received their first shots. If your child is 11 but about to turn 12, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends getting the dosage for your child’s current age.

My child is about to turn 12. Which COVID-19 vaccine should they get? (AAP)
What are the benefits of vaccination for children?

Millions of children have tested positive for COVID over the past year, and nearly 10,000 children ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized due to COVID-19.

Being vaccinated against COVID-19 helps give children strong protection against serious illness or complications. Although fewer children and teens have had COVID-19 than adults, they can still catch the virus, get sick, and spread it to others. Vaccines can limit how long someone is contagious even if they do get sick.

Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report (AAP)
Is the vaccine safe for my child?

Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for children age 6 months and up. The COVID-19 vaccines program is being watched more closely than any other public health effort in U.S. history. Clinical trials included thousands of children in these age groups and they found the authorized vaccines to be very safe and effective. More than 8 million kids have already received at least one dose since vaccines were authorized for ages 5 to 11, while hundreds of thousands of children 6 months to 5 years old have also received their first dose since shots were authorized for this age group in June 2022. Meanwhile, the CDC and FDA continue intensive safety monitoring of all authorized vaccines for both children and teens.

Like adults, children and teens might have some side effects after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. These include site injection pain, headache, fever and muscle ache. These side effects might affect your child or teen's ability to do daily activities, but they should go away within a few days.

The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners recommend children ages 6 months and older should get COVID-19 vaccines as soon as they can. If you have questions or concerns, talk to a pediatrician or healthcare professional.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens (CDC)
Will this impact my child's reproductive development?

No, the COVID-19 vaccines don't affect puberty or a child or teen's reproductive development in any way. There has been no evidence of vaccines impacting fertility or reproductive health in children or adults. Medical experts are confident that the vaccines are safe for growing bodies.

The Science Behind the COVID-19 Vaccine: Parent FAQs (AAP)
Are there any long term side effects on children?

It’s extremely unlikely that children would experience any serious side effects. Studies with children ages 6 months and older have not found any evidence of long-term side effects. In the past, we have seen that side effects from vaccines usually happen within six weeks of getting the shot. The Food and Drug Administration has made sure each authorized COVID-19 vaccine was studied for at least eight weeks after the final dose.

It is very rare to find serious side effects after any vaccine. Millions of people have received COVID-19 vaccines, and no long-term side effects have been detected.

The Science Behind COVID-19 Vaccines: Parent FAQs (AAP)
Why are doses different for kids aged 11 or younger?

If your child is 6 months to 11 years old, then the COVID-19 vaccine dose they will get is very small. Just 10 micrograms, which is one-third of the dose for older ages. Clinical trials found that this small amount still produces an immune response for kids in this age group.

Unlike many medications, COVID-19 vaccine dosage does not vary by patient weight but by age on the day of vaccination. Doses are based on age rather than weight because vaccines do not travel through the bloodstream to go to all parts of someone’s body like other medicines such as antibiotics. Vaccines actually don’t travel around your body at all. Instead, cells in your immune system go to the spot where the vaccine is given and create an immune response near the injection site.

Once your child has received their first shot, they will need to receive a second dose three weeks after their first.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens (CDC)
Can COVID-19 vaccines lead to heart inflammation in teenagers?

There have been a small number of reported cases of heart inflammation following a COVID-19 vaccine. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is inflammation of the outer lining of the heart. Incidents have mostly been reported among mostly male adolescents and young adults who have received an mRNA vaccine. Among the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses given, these reports are rare. Getting sick from COVID-19 has actually been shown to carry much higher risks for myocarditis than has been seen from vaccines.

Symptoms of these rare cases included chest pain, shortness of breath, or feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart. Most patients with myocarditis who received care responded well to treatment and rest and quickly felt better. To further reduce the risk of heart inflammation, the CDC has stated that an 8 week interval between your initial doses may be optimal for further reducing this risk.

CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) continue to recommend that teenagers 16 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19, including a booster shot after the initial series. If you have questions or concerns, talk to a healthcare professional.

Myocarditis and Pericarditis Following mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination (CDC)

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