Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for kids?

Teenager wearing a mask rolls up sleeve to show a bandage on her upper arm. A large outdoor tent is in the background.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for kids 12+? How do we know?

Visit our COVID-19 vaccine page for more information or to make an appointment.

Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer) approved for children ages 12 to 15 years has gone through a rigorous scientific vetting process to understand its safety profile. The FDA expanded the Pfizer emergency use authorization (EUA) to include this age group, and it has also been reviewed and recommended by the CDC and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Independent experts from Oregon, Washington and California, as part of the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, also reviewed the data and agreed with the findings that the vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 12-15.

All vaccines have the potential to cause some symptoms like fever, chills and local injection site redness and pain as the immune system responds and gears up – just like it is supposed to. Trials are designed to look at the risk of more severe reactions and the efficacy of the vaccine. The symptom profile in adolescents 12-15 years was similar to the profiles for adolescents and young adults from previous studies.

Why should we vaccinate kids?

We are learning more and more that children definitely can and do spread COVID-19.  Although the risks to any individual child of having severe illness or complications from COVID-19 are low, with COVID-19 circulating in our communities we will still see children who are hospitalized with infection or complications like Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C). Although rare, children can also die from COVID-19 at rates comparable to seasonal influenza.

Will kids and adults get different sized doses?

No, for adolescents ages 12-15 the dosing and the schedule will be the same as it is for adults (two intramuscular doses separated by 21 days). This is similar to many other vaccines, including the flu shot for babies as young as 6 months, as well as the TdaP vaccine for children as young as 7 years old.

Will kids have better or worse vaccine side effects than adults?

Learn more about side effects and how the clinical trial was conducted.

The most common side effects for kids in the clinical trial were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, fever, muscle pain and joint pain. These typically lasted 1-3 days for those who experienced them, and tended to be more reported after the second dose than the first. The side effects in this age group were consistent with those reported among those ages 16-25 years, though fever in slightly more participants in the 12-15 year olds.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for all individuals eligible to receive one. The cases of myocarditis, or heart muscle inflammation, following COVID-19 vaccination that were reported by the CDC and OHA are extremely rare; most cases have been mild. All affected people have been male, and cases seem to be mostly in teens and young adults, typically within four days after vaccination. Anyone experiencing chest pain, chest tightness, difficulty breathing or heart racing should get medical care right away, regardless of whether they got a vaccine.

At this time, the CDC has not yet confirmed a connection between myocarditis and COVID-19 vaccination. While investigation is ongoing, currently available data suggests that the risk of developing myocarditis following vaccine appears to be extremely low. The benefits of receiving the vaccine overwhelmingly outweigh the low risk of contracting myocarditis, and those able to get the vaccine should continue to do so at this time. It is important to remember that COVID-19 itself can have severe cardiac effects on adolescents.

What role will kids play in herd immunity?

What is herd immunity? Here’s a video that explains it visually – with mousetraps!

When most of a population is immune to an infectious disease, everyone is indirectly protected, including those who are not immune to the disease. Getting everyone vaccinated is our path toward developing herd immunity. We need to have high rates of vaccination in our  community so that COVID-19 stops spreading.

After getting vaccinated, do kids still need to wear masks?

OHSU hospitals and clinics still require masks. See our visitor policy for more info. 

Once kids are fully vaccinated (meaning at least two weeks since their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine), they can resume most activities without masks or physical distancing. The CDC recently relaxed mask guidelines, and Oregon followed suit.

Exceptions include:

  • Oregon’s guidance for schools remains in place and masking at school will still be needed.
  • You still need to follow local rules, including guidance for workplaces and businesses. Some businesses may still request that you use a mask.
  • You should also keep wearing a mask:
    • On public transit and at travel hubs like airports and bus stations
    • When going to the doctor
    • At hospitals and long-term care facilities
    • In group settings like homeless shelters, jails and prisons

If your adolescent is feeling nervous about their vaccine, talking about these benefits may help them get more excited about the benefits of being vaccinated.

Some additional resources for families with COVID-19 vaccine questions:

 

Headshot of a smiling womanHayes Bakken, M.D. 
Associate Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital