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When can kids get the COVID-19 vaccine or a booster?

James D. Campbell, MD, MS, FAAP


When can children get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Vaccines are our best hope to move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. A COVID vaccine is available for children age 5 and up, and boosters are now authorized for those 12 and older. A vaccine for children age 6 months and up may be authorized soon, as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration reviews clinical trial data.

Research shows that COVID-19 vaccines are remarkably effective and safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urges children and adults to get the COVID vaccine and booster as soon as they are eligible. Being vaccinated and boosted is especially important as new variants of the COVID-19 virus emerge. More contagious strains can spread quickly and infect more children. Being fully vaccinated and boosted helps protect kids from serious disease and hospitalization from COVID.

Which vaccine should my child get?

Anyone who is eligible should get whichever vaccine is available to them. COVID-19 vaccines are free, whether or not you have health insurance. Right now, the only COVID-19 vaccine available for children in the U.S. is the Pfizer BioNTech mRNA vaccine. Two separate doses are given 3 to 8 weeks apart for kids 12 to 17 years old. The COVID shot for children 5 years to 11 years of age is a lower dose than the dose recommended for people 12 years and older and given 21 days apart.

Who can get a third shot of the mRNA vaccine?

Federal health officials authorized a booster dose for kids who are at least 12 years old. Anyone eligible who got two doses of the mRNA COVID vaccine at least five months ago is strongly encouraged to get a booster dose. Only Pfizer-BioNTech can be used as a booster in eligible children and teens.

A third primary series dose is recommended for children age 5 through 11 years who have certain medical conditions or take medicines that weaken the immune system. Adolescents over 12 years of age should get a 3-dose primary series, a booster, and are also eligible to receive a second booster at least 4 months after the first booster.

For kids age 5 years or older who have weakened immune systems, a third dose is recommended as part of the primary series. The third dose is to help them develop as much protection as possible against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Are COVID-19 vaccines required for school entry?

Once a vaccine is approved, health authorities, including the CDC and the AAP, recommend when and how children should get it. However, each state's government decides which vaccines are required for school entry.

In the meantime, make sure your children are caught up on their vaccinations against measles, influenza, whooping cough, and any others that your pediatrician recommends.

Can my child get the vaccine if they have COVID-19?

If your child has an active COVID-19 infection, they should wait to get vaccinated until they've recovered. They should also follow their recommended isolation period first. This also applies to children who become infected with COVID-19 between their first and second dose of vaccine.

What about preschool age children and younger?

Before COVID-19 vaccines become available for children under age 5, a transparent and thorough review of clinical trial data must be completed. This is to ensure they are safe and effective for these age groups. Children are not little adults; we can't just assume a vaccine will have the same effect on a child as it does for someone older. AAP will also review the data and and make vaccine recommendations.

One thing is certain: COVID-19 vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death for hundreds of millions of U.S. adults and adolescents who've received them already. We look forward to the day when our youngest children can get the vaccines, too, so they can enjoy their communities safely.

More information

James D. Campbell, MD, MS, FAAP

James D. Campbell, MD, MS, FAAP, a pediatric infectious disease specialist based in Maryland, serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases.

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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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