I’M A PARENT OR CAREGIVER. WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT VACCINES FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS?
In the United States, everyone 6 months old and up is currently eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that everyone in this group get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they can. Before the COVID-19 vaccines were authorized by the FDA, clinical trials showed vaccines to be remarkably safe and effective for adults and teens age 16 and up. Trials involved tens of thousands of volunteers. After getting additional safety data for younger children, the FDA extended authorization of kids age 6 months and older. Clinical trials are underway for children as young as six months. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine will help keep children and teens from getting seriously ill even if they do get COVID-19.
HOW DO VACCINES WORK FOR KIDS?
The COVID-19 vaccine works similarly to other vaccines your child or teen 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 vaccination, your child or teen has less of a chance of getting COVID-19. If they do get infected with the virus, they may not be as sick as they would without the vaccine.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF VACCINATION FOR CHILDREN?
Getting your child or teen vaccinated will protect them from becoming seriously iIl from COVID-19. Although fewer children and teens have been infected with COVID-19 than adults, they can still be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, get sick from COVID-19, and spread COVID-19 to others. The vaccines protect the people around you, like those at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or those who can’t get vaccinated — including infants, or people with weakened immune systems from things like chemotherapy for cancer. After vaccination, your child or teen has a lower chance of getting COVID-19. If they do get infected with the virus, they may not be as sick as they would without the vaccine. Another benefit is that once your child or teen is fully vaccinated for COVID-19, they can safely resume many activities that they did prior to the pandemic, without having to wear a mask.
IS THE VACCINE SAFE FOR MY CHILD?
Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for children and teens ages 6 months and up. COVID-19 vaccines are being administered under the most intensive monitoring in U.S. history. Safety studies have included adolescents, and show the vaccines are safe for this age group. Like adults, children and teens may have some side effects after getting the COVID-19 vaccination. These side effects may affect your child or teen’s ability to do daily activities, but they should go away within a few days.
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. Given that the vaccine’s mRNA molecule mimics a natural human process, medical experts are confident that the vaccines are safe for growing bodies.
ARE THERE ANY LONG-TERM SIDE EFFECTS ON CHILDREN?
Serious side effects that would cause a long term health problem are extremely unlikely following COVID-19 vaccination. Long-term side effects following any vaccination are extremely rare. Vaccine monitoring has historically shown that if side effects are going to happen, they generally happen within six weeks of receiving vaccine dose. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration required each of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines to be studied for at least eight weeks after the final dose. Millions of people have received COVID-19 vaccines, and no long-term side effects have been detected.
WHY SHOULD WE GET VACCINATED?
Getting immunized against COVID-19 will keep most people from getting sick. Even in a rare case where one does catch the virus, the vaccine will likely prevent you from becoming seriously ill. Protecting yourself also protects the people around you, like those at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 or those who can’t get vaccinated — like infants, or people with weakened immune systems from things like chemotherapy for cancer. We are still learning how the vaccine affects whether people can still transmit COVID-19 to others. It may be possible that a vaccinated person can still carry the virus and infect others, even if that person does not appear to be sick.
HOW DO WE GET VACCINATED?
State and local governments will ultimately decide when each group gets access to vaccines based on the local supply. That way, communities can set the priorities that work for them. The federal government does not mandate vaccines or set the rules for each community. As more vaccines are produced over the first half of 2021, more people will be able to get vaccinated based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the CDC. If you have questions, make sure you talk to your doctor. Some people — like pregnant women or people with certain severe allergies — might be told to wait to get a specific vaccine once it’s available. Your doctor should be able to tell you when and where you can get your shots. It might be at a hospital, the doctor’s office, a pharmacy, or a drive thru clinic.
CAN COVID-19 VACCINES LEAD TO HEART INFLAMMATION IN MY CHILD?
There have been a small number of reported cases of myocarditis — a condition that involves the inflammation of the heart muscle — after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. These reports are rare, given the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses administered, and have been reported after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination (mostly among male adolescents and young adults). 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. CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to recommend that everyone 6 months old and above be vaccinated against COVID-19, given the risk of COVID-19 illness and related, possibly severe complications, such as long-term health problems, hospitalization, and even death. If you have concerns about COVID-19 vaccination, talk with your healthcare provider or your child’s doctor, nurse, or clinic.
CAN VACCINES OVERLOAD MY BABY’S SYSTEM?
Vaccines do not overload the immune system. Every day, a healthy baby’s immune system successfully fights off thousands of germs. Antigens are parts of germs that cause the body’s immune system to go to work to build antibodies, which fight off diseases.
The antigens in vaccines come from the germs themselves, but the germs are weakened or killed so they cannot cause serious illness. Even if babies receive several vaccinations in one day, vaccines contain only a tiny fraction of the antigens they encounter every day in their environment. Vaccines give your child the antibodies they need to fight off serious vaccine-preventable diseases.
IF I’M BREASTFEEDING, DO I VACCINATE MY BABY ON SCHEDULE?
Yes, even breastfed babies need to be protected with vaccines at the recommended ages. The immune system is not fully developed at birth, which puts newborns at greater risk for infections.
Breast milk provides important protection from some infections as your baby’s immune system is developing. For example, babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of ear infections, respiratory tract infections, and diarrhea. However, breast milk does not protect children against all diseases. Even in breastfed infants, vaccines are the most effective way to prevent many diseases. Your baby needs the long-term protection that can only come from following CDC’s recommended schedule.
HAVEN’T WE GOTTEN RID OF MOST OF THE DISEASES IN THIS COUNTRY?
Some vaccine-preventable diseases, like pertussis (whooping cough) and chickenpox, remain common in the United States. On the other hand, other diseases vaccines prevent are no longer common in this country because of vaccines. If we stopped vaccinating, the few cases we have in the United States could very quickly become tens or hundreds of thousands of cases. Even though many serious vaccine-preventable diseases are uncommon in the United States, some are common in other parts of the world. Even if your family does not travel internationally, you could come into contact with international travelers anywhere in your community. Children who don’t receive all vaccinations and are exposed to a disease can become seriously sick and spread it through a community.
The Fund for Public Health in New York City and Health Resources and Service Administration