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The Science Behind COVID Vaccines: Parent FAQs

The Science Behind the COVID-19 Vaccine: Parent FAQs The Science Behind the COVID-19 Vaccine: Parent FAQs

Since COVID vaccines were recommended for everyone age 6 months and up, millions of children and teens have been safely vaccinated.

To keep as many babies and kids protected as possible, it is important to make sure your family has received recommended doses of the updated COVID vaccine.

Whether you're the parent of a baby, young child or adolescent, you likely have questions about the vaccine. Here are answers to some common questions about the science behind the COVID vaccine.

How does the COVID vaccine work?

The COVID vaccine works similarly to other vaccines your child has had. Germs such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, invade and multiply inside the body. The vaccine prepares your child's immune system to recognize and make antibodies that fight the virus.

When your child is vaccinated, they are better protected. If they do get infected, they likely will not be as sick as they would without the vaccine. They also are much less likely to be hospitalized if they get the virus. (See the video, "How Your Child's Immune System Updates After Vaccinations," below.)

How are mRNA and protein subunit COVID vaccines different?

There are two types of vaccines in the United States: messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines (Pfizer & Moderna) for people age 6 months and older and a protein subunit vaccine (Novavax) for people age 12 years and older who are unable to receive the mRNA vaccine.

  • COVID mRNA vaccines contain messenger RNA (mRNA), which is made up of nucleic acids. Nucleic acids, found naturally in all our cells, instructs them to make protein. The mRNA from the vaccine carries instructions, delivered inside a lipid (fat) coating, tells cells to produce harmless pieces of "spike" protein. These look like spikes on the actual COVID virus.

    When the cells make these pieces of spike protein, the immune system recognizes that they should not be there. Your child's body then makes antibodies that get rid of the spike pieces. These antibodies remember how to protect your child from the virus in the future.

Did you know?

Even though widespread use of mRNA vaccines is new, this technology has been studied for decades. mRNA vaccines do not contain any live or dead parts of the virus.

  • The COVID subunit vaccine includes a part (protein) of the virus that best stimulates your immune system. Once your immune system recognizes the protein, it creates antibodies and defensive white blood cells. Later, if you become infected with the COVID virus, the antibodies will fight the virus. These vaccines often include an ingredient called an adjuvant that helps to increase the body’s immune response.

Do mRNA vaccines change your DNA?
No, the COVID vaccines made with messenger RNA do not interact with your DNA at all. DNA is your genetic material, and it is stored in the nucleus of a cell. The mRNA in the vaccines never gets into the nucleus. And once your immune cells have used the instructions, they break down the mRNA and it quickly exits the body.

Can children with immune conditions get additional doses?

Yes. Additional doses are recommended for some children and teens who have medical conditions or take medicines that weaken the immune system.

How do we know COVID vaccines are safe for kids?

Millions of kids have safely received COVID vaccines.

The vaccines continue to be monitored very closely. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that COVID-19 vaccines have "the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history."

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2023)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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