A Pharmacist Explains: Kids and COVID-19 Vaccines

Published: December 15, 2021
Revised: June 22, 2022
Hannah Post
By Hannah Post, PharmD
Melody Berg
By Melody Berg, PharmD, MPH, BCPS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months to 17 years and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months to 5 years. Vaccinating this age group, in addition to adults, will help reduce the chance of serious illness from COVID-19 while also helping to protect family and community members at a higher risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.


Are the pediatric vaccines the same as the adult vaccines?
Although the vaccines for children aged 6 months to 11 years contain the same active ingredients as the vaccines recommended for individuals aged 12 years and older, the dose kids receive is lower than the adult dose.


Smaller needles, designed specifically for children, are also used.


For children aged 6 months to 4 years old, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is given as 2 doses, approximately 1 month apart, whereas the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is given as 3 doses for this age group. The first two doses are given 3 weeks apart and the last dose is given at least 8 weeks after the second dose.


For kids 5 years of age, both vaccines are given as 2 doses (1 month apart for the Moderna vaccine and 3 weeks apart for the Pfizer-BioNTech apart). For kids 6 to 17 years, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is given as 2 doses 3 weeks apart.


Are the vaccines safe?
Yes. Before the vaccines were recommended, clinical trials were conducted in children to make sure the vaccine is safe. Children have experienced similar side effects from the vaccine as adults including pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site and aches, muscle pain, chills, and fever.


Side effects generally occurred within a few days of receiving the shot but went away after a day or two. It is not recommended to give pain relievers before the shot, but placing a cool, damp cloth on the injection site can help with discomfort. COVID-19 vaccines are being monitored for safety with the most comprehensive and intense safety monitoring program in U.S. history.


Severe allergic reactions, like anaphylaxis, can happen after any vaccination but are rare. The CDC has an after vaccination health-checker to monitor side effects and serious adverse events.


Should my child get vaccinated?
Yes. Although children are less likely to become severely sick due to COVID-19, they can still become infected, spread the virus, and are at risk for both short and long-term health issues from COVID-19. Experts agree that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. Your child may get a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines, including flu vaccine, at the same time.

Where can my child get vaccinated?
The COVID-19 vaccine is free to all people. Ask your child’s healthcare provider if they offer COVID-19 vaccination or ask your local pharmacist if vaccinations are available for children. You may also visit vaccines.gov to find COVID-19 vaccines near you.


What about a booster dose?
It is recommended that all children over the age of 5 years receive a booster, if eligible. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is recommended to be given at least 5 months after completing the primary series. Certain children may get them sooner depending on other conditions.


A booster tool is available to help know when to schedule your child’s booster: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/booster-shot.html#when-you-can-get-booster. It is not yet known when and if booster doses for children under 5 years of age will be recommended.  

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