The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Johns Hopkins Medicine encourages all families that are eligible to get the appropriate COVID-19 vaccine, including children 6 months and older. Allison Messina, M.D., chief of the Division of Infectious Disease and medical director of Infection Prevention at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, explains what families should know about the COVID-19 vaccine and other recent updates about the virus.
How do I know the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and why should I get my child vaccinated?
Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reviewed available data and published studies and found the vaccine is safe and effective for babies and children 6 months and older. Johns Hopkins Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for all children in this age group. The risks and benefits of this vaccine have been studied among children in these age groups and the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of catching this potentially very serious disease. Vaccinating children is part of the overall approach to protecting everyone from the most severe consequences of the virus that causes COVID-19. Getting everyone who is eligible vaccinated will help us safely return to a sense of normalcy for school and other activities and can also reduce the likelihood of new viral variants developing.
Why should my child get vaccinated if they already had COVID-19?
Immunity after natural infection provides protection for a number of weeks, but tends to decrease after about 90 days. People who have had the infection are therefore still at risk for contracting the virus again. The COVID-19 vaccine provides additional immunity to help your body fight off the virus if you get infected again.
Should I space out the COVID-19 vaccine and other immunizations for my child?
It is not necessary to space out the COVID-19 vaccine from other vaccines. Your child can get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time they receive other immunizations, to protect them from vaccine-preventable illnesses.
What are the differences between the vaccine doses for each age group?
The COVID-19 vaccine doses for children ages younger than 12 years of age are based upon the child’s age on the day of vaccination, not on weight or size. Children get a smaller dose of COVID-19 vaccine than teens and adults that is the right amount for their age group. The Moderna vaccine is a two-dose vaccine for every age group. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is delivered in two doses for children 5 and older, and three doses are required for children ages 6 months - 4 years. The needle used to deliver these pediatric vaccines is smaller for smaller arms. Children age 5–17 are also eligible to receive a Pfizer-BioNTech booster if it has been more than 5 months since they received the primary vaccine series. Children ages 12 and older who have certain medical conditions associated with immunosuppression, can receive an additional booster dose. The CDC offers booster guidelines for those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.
Will my child experience any side effects after receiving the vaccine?
Similar to adults, children may have some side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, such as minor pain or swelling at the injection site. Fever, muscle aches, chills, fatigue, headaches or a combination of these symptoms can also occur. These usually only last a day or two and are a sign the immune system is working. If your child experiences any other side effects or symptoms persist longer, contact their pediatrician.
With more adults affected, do I really need to be concerned about my child contracting and getting sick from COVID-19?
While COVID-19 is less frequently severe in children than in adults, it is not an insignificant disease. COVID-19 can cause the same types of serious illness in kids as in adults. For example, older children (teenagers) often experience severe respiratory symptoms. They can have high fevers, cough, and such difficulty breathing that they sometimes require support from mechanical ventilators. This virus can also cause problems with blood clotting, neurological problems like strokes — and can cause severe heart dysfunction as well. Severe COVID-19 affects all organ systems. While there are certain risk factors that can make kids more likely to have severe disease, many of the children with severe illness were previously completely healthy. With COVID-19 in younger kids, we have seen MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory disorder in children — which is a rare, but serious, complication of the virus that happens a few weeks after the initial infection. This illness can also cause serious problems, particularly it seems to commonly attack the heart. After getting COVID-19, children and teens can also experience a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems. These include physical and mental health complications that may occur four or more weeks after initial infection. These complications can appear after mild or severe COVID-19, or after MIS-C.
For more information, visit our COVID-19 resource center.
Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital offers pediatric COVID-19 vaccination appointments for existing patients, ages 6 months and older, in our general pediatrics clinics in St. Petersburg and Sarasota, as well as some inpatients. These appointments will be limited and must be scheduled in advance. Learn more.