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How to Navigate the Decision To Get Your Child Vaccinated Against COVID

Young girl receiving COVID vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • Since becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, more than 600,000 children ages 12 to 15 have received the shot.
  • Many parents continue to express hesitancy about getting their child vaccinated.
  • Experts recommend speaking with a trusted pediatrician, pharmacist, or another health professional to make the best decision about whether to get vaccinated.

Children ages 12 to 15 are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Last week, the FDA broadened its age eligibility requirements for receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include this age group.

Since then, more than 600,000 adolescents have received the shot, Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said during a media briefing Tuesday. They join the now more than 3.5 million children under 18 years old who are vaccinated.

Still, many parents are hesitant to get their children vaccinated. In a recent Verywell Health Vaccine Sentiment Tracker, 25% of parents were undecided on whether they'll get their children vaccinated, and 16% say they wouldn't. Survey respondents reported fearing potential vaccine side effects.

But as children return to school and in-person activities, there is an increased risk of infection from interaction with others. And while children are less likely than adults to experience symptomatic COVID-19 infection, there is evidence that the effects of the illness can be long-lasting and sometimes severe in children. Experts say the vaccines are the best tool scientists currently have to protect against COVID-19 infection and return to normalcy.

“Our children, after more than a year of lockdown, want to return to their normal lives," Kevin Ban, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Walgreens, tells Verywell. "They want to hang out with their friends, they want to go to school, they want to see their grandparents, they want to do the basic things that kids do like play sports without a mask on."

The Vaccines Are Safe and Effective

The Pfizer trial indicated the vaccine was 100% effective and created robust antibody responses in 2,260 adolescent participants. Because the Pfizer vaccine uses mRNA technology—not live virus—it’s not possible for your child to get sick with COVID-19 from the vaccine.

The vaccine in adolescents “appears to be very effective—even more so than in their older counterparts. During the Pfizer trial, there were zero cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated kids. That’s outstanding,” Sunaina Suhag, MD, FAAP, a pediatric doctor at Austin Regional Clinic, writes in an email to Verywell.

Ban, who has a 14-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son, says his family decided to get vaccinated as soon as they became eligible.

“I believe in prevention, and I wanted to do everything that I could do to protect my children,” Ban says. Ban, who was involved with the development, testing, and distribution of all three vaccines currently approved in the U.S., says the scientists and manufacturers cut no corners in making sure they were safe.

In addition to the various clinical studies in children indicating vaccine safety and efficacy, there are now several real-world studies indicating that they work well in adults.

“The children have the advantage of the adults being first to receive the vaccines, so we know a whole lot more about safety now because the vaccines been rolled out to millions of adults.” Allison Messina, MD, chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, tells Verywell.

What This Means For You

If you are a parent with children 12 to 15 years old and you’re unsure about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, experts recommend you reach out to your child’s pediatrician or another trusted health provider to discuss your concerns. You can find appointments near you at VaccineFinder.org.

Navigating the Conversation

People may be hesitant toward the vaccines for a variety of different reasons. When discussing the vaccine, Ban says it’s important to meet people where they are. This is especially true when there are disagreements between parents and children about whether to get vaccinated.

“This is a listening exercise,” Ban says. “I think the open conversation where you're listening to one another, and you are trying to arrive at the best decision, is really the best way to move forward.”

If you’re on the fence about vaccinating your child, Messina says to consider risk factors like the level of infection in your community, your child’s medical conditions, and whether they will be attending school or other activities in person.

When weighing these considerations, and especially when there is a disagreement between parent and child, it may be best to have a conversation with a trusted medical provider. A pediatrician or primary care provider who knows your family can offer updated and accurate information.

Plus, it’s important to remember that the decision to be vaccinated is a process rather than a singular event, Ban says. As more information comes out about the vaccines, people’s perspectives may shift.

Preparing for Your Child's Side Effects 

Make sure to inform your doctor or nurse of any allergies your child may have. Especially if your child has a history of allergic reactions, be sure to wait for 15 to 30 minutes after their vaccination to monitor for any severe reactions.

As is true with adults, it’s likely that your child will experience side effects from the vaccine. These may include pain and swelling in the arm, tiredness, headache, chills, fever, and nausea. Studies indicate the side effects in 12 to 15-year-olds are similar to those observed in 16 to 25-year-olds, with no evidence of additional or different risks.

After vaccination, “the child might not want to go to school that day,” Messina says. “But those symptoms are mild and they're over quickly.”

Vaccines Are Best Defense Against COVID

The COVID-19 vaccines are currently the most effective method for preventing illness and stopping the spread of the virus. Experts say that immunizing adolescents will protect a large and important part of the population and bring the U.S. one step closer to herd immunity and a return to normalcy.

“Parents really need to weigh the risk versus benefit and remember that not vaccinating your child is not without risk,” Messina says. “In fact, we do think there is greater risk of not vaccinating your child because those children are going to be more susceptible to disease.”

“Kids want to get vaccinated…They are worried for their more vulnerable family members and they’ve sacrificed quite a lot to keep our community safe,” Suhag says. “Contracting COVID-19 is not without risk for these kids, and they want to protect themselves, too.”

For people who are interested in having their children vaccinated, pharmacies offer same-day vaccination services. Plus, the CDC says adolescents may receive the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines during the same visit, making it easier for children to receive multiple important immunizations at once.

“I think that there has been very good momentum around parents wanting to protect their children and end the pandemic,” Ban says. “I'm hopeful that that will continue.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States. Updated May 19, 2021.