COVID-19 vaccine and kids: What parents should know

Teenager Maliyah Rather holds her mom's hand while gettig the first dose Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine

Maliyah Rather, 14, holds her mother’s hand while she receives the first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Chicago Medicine on May 13, 2021. It was the first day adolescents could receive doses of the vaccine, following emergency use authorization by the FDA.

The federal government now says the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may be given to vaccine appointment for your child or yourself, call 773-834-8221. You can also get a vaccine for your child during regular appointments with a pediatrician at Comer Children’s or at retail pharmacies.

Here is what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, including how to help your child get ready.

How are the number of doses and timing for this vaccine different for children than for adults?

The number doses and timing between doses is the same for children 5 and older as it is for teenagers and adults. Like adolescents and adults, this group of vaccine-eligible children will need two shots, which will be given about three weeks apart. Booster doses are also recommended several months after the second dose.

Meanwhile, children under age 5 will receive three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Like older children, the first two doses will be given three weeks apart. But the youngest children will also get a third dose at least eight weeks after their second dose.

These children will have to wait two weeks after their final shot to be considered fully protected. It’s important your child receives all the doses in their vaccine series.
Compared to adults and adolescents, children will receive a smaller dosage of the vaccine when they receive the immunization. This is because research shows the lower dosage leads to the best balance of maximized immune response and minimized side effects in kids. The dosages for younger children are:

  • Children 5 to 11 will receive one-third of the adult dose (10 mcg, compared with 30 mcg for people 12 and up).
  • Children between 6 months and 4 years will receive one-tenth of the adult dose (3 mcg).

Are the side effects the same for kids?

Yes, the range of side effects has proven to be similar to what has been seen in adults receiving the vaccine: soreness at the injection site, fatigue, chills, fever and headaches. Though the side effects are more pronounced after the final dosage, they have shown to last only a day or two.

Can children still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated?

No vaccination is 100% effective, so children could still get COVID-19 after being vaccinated. Like vaccinated adults, if children do become infected with COVID-19, they are much less likely to get severely ill. It's important to note that while severe illness among children who contract COVID-19 is rare, more data are needed to determine the longer-term physical, emotional and mental health impact of those who were infected as children.

What is different about research methodologies when testing vaccines for children?

Because children are at different stages of development throughout childhood and adolescence, a number of factors are considered when testing safety and efficacy, such as the child’s weight and dosage tolerability. Manufacturers must figure out the dose that provides enough protection without too many side effects.

Can children also get other vaccines at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine?

Both children and adults can absolutely get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as their annual flu shot or other regular immunizations. In fact, it’s something I strongly encourage with my patients, friends, and even my own children. The influenza vaccine is an important immunization that helps protect us from the seasonal flu and also helps minimize how sick we get if we are infected.

How can I help my child ease their anxiety about the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Child Life team at Comer Children’s Hospital has a lot of great experience helping kids prepare for medical treatments, including immunizations. Here’s some of their best tips:

  • Calmly explain what’s going to happen to your child and why it’s important. Planning in advance helps kids mentally prepare and know they won’t be alone.
  • Bring something fun and comforting like a tablet or a toy that can help distract a child and lower their anxiety. It’s also helpful to let children choose which item they want to bring with them, since it gives them a feeling of agency.
  • Don't project your own fears or be dismissive of their concerns. Kids are great at picking up emotions from parents. If parents stay calm, it will help kids stay calm, too.
  • Praise children afterward for doing a great job.
Allison H. Bartlett, MD, MS

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS

Allison Bartlett, MD, MS, specializes in the medical management of acute and chronic infectious diseases. She also is working to improve the safety and efficacy of antibiotic use in children.

Learn more about Dr. Bartlett