COVID-19 vaccine for children and youth
Why does my child need the COVID-19 vaccine?
Although younger people who get COVID-19 usually have milder symptoms, some children (including those with certain chronic conditions) will have more severe disease and may be hospitalized. A few children have developed an inflammatory illness after having COVID-19. A few children have died.
Getting the COVID-19 vaccine will protect children and youth from infection. Being vaccinated also helps prevent the virus from spreading to family and friends, and to people more likely to get very sick from COVID-19. Some children are infected but have no symptoms and may still spread the virus to others.
The benefits of vaccination include less time away from school or activities, with positive impacts on your child's physical and mental health. Vaccination is a way for children to get back to their activities, time with friends and family, and other things that they enjoy.
When can my child get a COVID-19 vaccine?
That depends on where you live, and how much vaccine is available in your area. Check with your local public health authority for information on when and where your child can receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Make sure your child gets the second dose as scheduled. Your child is considered fully vaccinated 2 weeks after the second vaccine dose.
Some children with conditions that cause them to be moderately or severely immunocompromised may require 3 doses. If your child is immunocompromised, ask your doctor if they should get a third dose.
Is the vaccine safe for children?
The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children 5 years of age and older. Parents/caregivers should have their children vaccinated as soon as they are able to.
The vaccine dose for children 5 years to 11 years old is a lower dose than the one recommended for children 12 years and older.
At this time, we are waiting for information about the COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 5 years old. Studies are underway for this age group.
COVID-19 vaccines were developed so quickly. How do I know they are safe?
The reason that the COVID-19 vaccines were made so quickly is because governments, public health authorities, and manufacturers around the world made them a priority.
All new vaccines have to go through a very specific and scientifically strict process of testing and review to make sure they are safe and effective. The COVID-19 vaccines went through the same processes.
Can my child get COVID-19 from the vaccine?
No. You can’t get any virus from this vaccine. None of the COVID-19 vaccines available in Canada contain a live virus.
How do mRNA vaccines work?
The vaccine currently approved for children and youth 5 years of age and older is called an mRNA vaccine (“messenger RNA”).
A COVID-19 mRNA vaccine teaches our cells how to make a piece of a protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. So if the virus that causes COVID-19 later enters the body, the immune system will recognize the virus and remember how to fight it. The antibodies that our bodies produce protect us from future infections.
The mRNA does not get into our genetic material or DNA.
What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?
As with other vaccines, there may be side effects. It is normal and expected to have common reactions after you receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Most of these are mild and don’t last, and not everyone gets them. Even if your child gets side effects after the first dose, they will still need to get the second dose for best protection. Common side effects include:
- Soreness, tenderness or redness at the spot where the vaccine was given
- Feeling tired
- General muscle aches or mild flu-like symptoms
If your child develops any of these side effects after the vaccine, you may give them acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If you have concerns about any symptoms your child develops after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, speak with your health care provider or public health.
I’ve heard that the COVID-19 vaccine can cause myocarditis. What is it?
Very rare cases of myocarditis (heart inflammation) have been reported after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Most cases have been mild and individuals have recovered. Most cases were older male adolescents and young adults, and myocarditis occurred after the second dose of vaccine.
This situation, as well as all potential adverse effects of vaccination, are closely and continuously monitored in Canada and in many other countries. The benefit of COVID-19 vaccination still outweighs the very rare risk of myocarditis. Parents should seek medical attention if their child develops sudden chest pains, shortness of breath, or palpitations.
Prevention of COVID-19 is important, as children and youth who get sick with COVID-19 may have serious disease, including myocarditis and other heart problems.
My child has already had COVID-19. Do they still need the vaccine?
Yes. People can get sick from COVID-19 more than once but the vaccine can help prevent that. Although having the virus may provide some protection from getting sick again, we do not know how long that protection lasts.
How long will protection from the COVID-19 vaccine last?
We don’t know yet how long protection from the COVID-19 vaccine lasts. That’s why it’s important to continue to follow local public health measures such as social distancing, hand washing, staying home when you are sick, and wearing a mask when appropriate.
Can my child get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as a flu vaccine?
It is safe to get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as (or any time before/after) any childhood vaccine, including the seasonal flu vaccine (shot or nasal).
For children 5 to 11 years old, it may be best to wait at least 14 days between the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines. The reason for this is that if any side effects happen, doctors will know which vaccine they are related to. But only space out vaccines if you are sure that no other vaccines your child needs will be given late. Many children are behind with their childhood vaccines or boosters because of the COVID-19 pandemic and getting more than one vaccine at the same time can help them catch up more quickly.
My teenager is hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. What can I do?
The teenage years are often when we begin making some medical decisions for ourselves. The legal age of consent varies depending on which province or territory you live in. In some places, there is no specific age and it will depend on the young person’s ability to understand and make decisions. Your health care provider should know or be able to find out for you.
It’s important to answer your teen’s questions truthfully and to include them in making decisions about their health, and in conversations with their health care provider. This may help your teen be less afraid and anxious. If they are not willing to discuss the vaccine with you, you could ask if they would be willing to talk to their health care provider, teacher, or another adult they trust – or even a peer or friend who has accepted the vaccine.
More information from the CPS
- Vaccines for children: COVID-19 (Health Canada)
- The CARD System: Coping with Fear and Anxiety (AboutKidsHealth.ca; Immunize Canada)
- Max the Vax (Campaign supported by the Canadian Medical Association)
- Common questions about COVID-19 (Immunize Canada)
- Ask the experts video series: COVID-19 vaccines questions (Health Canada)
- COVID-19 vaccines (SickKids – AboutKidsHealth)
- SickKids COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service - Commonly Asked Questions (SickKids)
Reviewed by the following CPS committees
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last updated: January 2022