Parenting

When Can Kids Get the COVID Vaccine or Booster?

The FDA has authorized boosters for kids 5 to 11, but kids under age 5 still can't be vaccinated. Here's what to know about COVID shots for kids.

Children under age 5 are still unable to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Azmer Asopah
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

Pfizer and BioNTech's booster for children as young as 5 was authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, widening the net for more children to get an extra shot in the face of rising COVID-19 cases. Kids and teens 12 and older have already been recommended a booster

Before the booster rollout starts for the younger age group, however, it'll need to be recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An independent committee of doctors and scientists that review safety and effectiveness data will host a public meeting Thursday starting at 11 a.m. ET, where members are expected to vote on whether the CDC should recommend boosters to younger kids. If they vote in favor, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is expected to follow suit. 

Pfizer's booster for kids under age 12 is one-third the company's adult vaccine dose. Only about 28% of 5- to 11-year-olds have completed their primary COVID-19 vaccine series (two shots), according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But while parents wait on the final word on boosters for younger kids, there's been no first COVID-19 shot for babies, toddlers and children under age 5. Moderna and Pfizer have both asked the FDA to authorize low-dose vaccines for the youngest age group, and the agency has a tentative schedule in June to go over data on both companies' vaccines. Pfizer was the initial hope for many parents of younger children with its vaccine for kids under 5, but postponed the official application and authorization process to wait for additional data on a third dose for that age group. 

"We recognize parents are anxious to have their young children vaccinated against COVID-19, and while the FDA cannot predict how long its evaluation of the data and information will take, we will review any EUA request we receive as quickly as possible using a science-based approach," an FDA spokesperson told CNET. 

Here's what to know about COVID-19 vaccines for kids and teens.

When should kids get a booster? 

Kids ages 5 to 11 are eligible for a COVID-19 booster after the FDA's authorization this week, but whether it's recommended they receive one is up to the CDC, which is expected to make a final decision this week. Then children should be able to get the shot at locations that have the low-dose Pfizer vaccine for children in stock. (It's one-third the company's dosage given to everyone 12 and older.) 

Pfizer announced in April that a third 10-microgram dose of its vaccine was effective in increasing antibodies against the original SARS-CoV-2 "wild-type" strain by sixfold in that age group.

Anyone 12 or older is eligible for a single booster, administered at least five months after their primary vaccination series. The CDC also recommends an additional dose of vaccine for children 5 and up who are immunocompromised, given at least 28 days after their second dose. Kids and teens 12 and older can get Pfizer's booster, while adults should choose between Pfizer and Moderna.

In March, the FDA authorized a second booster for those 50 and over and children 12 and older with compromised immune systems.

How old do you have to be to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Right now, children in the US age 5 and older are eligible for a primary two-dose regimen of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

Moderna has requested emergency use authorization from the FDA for its vaccine for children 6 months up to 6 years old, which is a quarter the dose of its primary vaccine for adults. Pfizer's vaccine for kids 6 months up to age 5 is one-tenth the size of the vaccine given to people age 12 and up. 

Moderna has also asked the FDA to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for kids 6 to 11, and expand emergency use authorization of its existing vaccine to kids 12 through 17. If it's authorized for the younger age groups, there will be a second COVID-19 option for kids and teens in the US. (Pfizer and BioNTech's is the only vaccine authorized for people under 18.) 

child getting a vaccine shot

Only Pfizer's vaccine is approved for children.

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Is the COVID vaccine safe for kids?

Vaccine side effects in kids 5 to 11 are mostly mild and similar to those adults may experience, according to the CDC, including soreness at the injection site, fever, muscle soreness, nausea and fatigue. 

In a Dec. 13 report from the agency, the CDC reviewed reports from safety monitoring systems on more than 8 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine given to kids 5 to 11, confirming that children's immune systems respond well to the vaccine with common mild side effects, and that serious adverse events are rarely reported. 

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Side effects in children to COVID-19 vaccines are similar to those in adults, including nausea and fatigue.

Getty Images

Inflammation of the heart muscle, known as myocarditis, and of the muscle's outer lining, called pericarditis, are rare and typically mild side effects linked to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, mostly in adolescent males and young men ages 12 to 29. (Myocarditis can also occur after infection with COVID-19.)

In one study, the CDC said that 54 recipients out of a million males ages 12 to 17 experienced myocarditis following the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's Comirnaty vaccine. 

"The bottom line is that getting COVID is much riskier to the heart than anything in this vaccine, no matter what age or sex you are," Dr. Matthew Oster, a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, told the CDC in November as reported by ABC News.

Where can my child get their COVID shot?

Since Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5 to 11 is a different dosage than the one for adults, it's generally available in doctor's offices and public health clinics, not pharmacies and other mass vaccination sites.

Call your pediatrician or local health clinic for a recommendation on where to go. Parents may also text their ZIP code to 438829 or use this vaccine finder link to find a clinic near them that has the child vaccine available. 

How serious is COVID-19 in children? 

Children are much less likely to get severely sick from the virus than adults, but some children have gotten extremely sick from COVID-19. The omicron wave was specifically impactful on children, leading to an increase in hospitalizations. During the omicron surge this winter from December through February, almost 90% of children 5 to 11 who were hospitalized weren't vaccinated, according to a recent CDC report. Three in 10 of those children didn't have an underlying medical condition that would make them more susceptible to COVID-19 hospitalization. 

An infection, even a mild case, can disrupt a child's ability to attend school or socialize, and kids can pass the infection to more vulnerable family or community members.

Kids 5 to 11 who have COVID-19 have a higher risk of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, a rare but potentially serious complication involving inflammation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or other organs. 

"There is an urgent need to collect more age-specific data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as potential longer-term effects," the AAP said in a March report.

About 75% of children and adolescents have had COVID-19 as of February, the CDC reported in April. 

Do I need to give consent for my child to get vaccinated? 

Parents generally need to consent to children receiving medical care, including Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. This is especially true for younger children. 

However, depending on which state you live in, there may be a legal precedent for teens and other kids to request the vaccine without parental permission. 

Tennessee's vaccine director, Michelle Fiscus, was fired in August, allegedly in part for sending out a memo detailing the state's "mature minor doctrine," which explains how minors may seek medical care without the consent of their parents. 

My child has allergies. Can they get the vaccine?

Yes, though you might be asked to stick around the waiting room so health care providers can monitor them for (extremely rare) allergic reactions that can occur after any vaccination. 

"If the child has a history of anaphylaxis or other severe allergies, then the observation time after the injection may be 30 minutes instead of 15," said Dr. Anne Liu, an infectious disease specialist with Stanford Hospital and Clinics and the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. 

Children who have been prescribed an EpiPen for any reason should bring it to their vaccine appointment, Liu added. 

As with adults, children with an allergy to an ingredient in Pfizer's COVID-19 shouldn't take it. You can find a list of ingredients in Pfizer's vaccine for kids 5 to 11 on the FDA's fact sheet

Can my child get their COVID-19 shot at the same time as other vaccines?

According to the CDC, your child may get other vaccines when they go in for their COVID shot without waiting 14 days between appointments. Flu shots can be given to children 6 months and older.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.