COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 and up include two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, spaced 3 weeks apart. Because vaccine effectiveness can fade over time, getting a booster shot increases or "boosts" kids' protection against the virus. But it’s not available for children of all ages yet. Here’s what you need to know.
Can My Child Get the COVID-19 Booster?
The CDC recommends COVID-19 boosters for kids ages 12 and up. Children should get their booster at least 5 months after the second shot.
Children ages 5 and up with weakened immune systems should get a third dose of the vaccine. This includes children who've had cancer or an organ transplant, as well as those who take medicines that curb immune system responses. This isn't a booster; it's an extra dose. Getting a third dose 28 days after the second one helps children at higher risk for COVID-19 complications build up more protection against the virus.
The COVID-19 vaccine isn't approved for children under age 5. Pfizer is studying its vaccine in children ages 6 months to under 5 years. The company is also looking at whether a third dose might offer more protection to all children under age 12.
Do Children Really Need a COVID-19 Vaccine and Booster?
You may have heard that COVID-19 is milder in children, and that's true. But it can still lead to serious illness.
More than 12 million children have been infected since the start of the pandemic. Only a small percentage of them had to go to the hospital. But with so many children infected, the numbers add up to nearly 110,000 children hospitalized so far. Some have even died. Kids with medical conditions like diabetes and asthma are at risk for more serious illness.
But even children who don't have severe symptoms can spread the virus. And unvaccinated children are more likely to get a COVID-19 complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MISC-C causes inflammation in organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain.
Getting your kids vaccinated and boosted also protects other members of your household, including:
- Siblings too young to get the vaccine
- Older adults
- People with underlying conditions who might get very sick from COVID
If your child has already tested positive for COVID-19, they should still get vaccinated and get a booster. That’s because vaccines offer a different kind of protection than natural immunity. And experts don't know how long natural immunity lasts. Getting vaccinated after having COVID-19 improves your defenses and lowers the risk of reinfection.
How Safe Is the Booster Shot?
It might seem like the COVID-19 vaccine came about quickly, but that's not true. The first outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a virus related to COVID-19, was in 2002. Researchers have been working on a SARS vaccine for many years.
The COVID-19 vaccines went through a careful review process before approval. Researchers conducted studies involving thousands of children to make sure the vaccines were safe and effective. And no vaccine was tested in children until studies had shown that it was safe in adults.
Just like with adults, COVID-19 vaccines can cause side effects in children. But most are mild and include:
- Pain, redness, and swelling in the area around the shot
- Muscle pain
These are normal signs that your child's body is building up immunity against the virus. They should go away in a few days. More serious allergic reactions and side effects are rare.
How Else Can I Protect My Kids?
A few other tips can help protect your child when they're at school or in other social settings:
- Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Send your children to school with a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer if they don't have access to a sink during the day.
- Ask them to wash up often during the day, especially before they eat.
Social distancing is also key. Hold playdates outdoors whenever possible. When your kids are indoors, encourage them to stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
Wearing a mask is one of the easiest and most effective ways to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all kids ages 2 and older wear a mask indoors in public places such as school, on airplanes and other forms of transportation, and at sporting events.
The most protective masks have a few layers of fabric, like a surgical mask. The mask should fit snugly over your child's nose and mouth, without any gaps where germs might sneak in.