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Answering Your Questions: The COVID-19 Vaccine for Preteens and Teens

In the face of COVID-19, every question, answer, and vaccination is important. That’s why we’re providing you with information to help ease concerns about your children receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, which the CDC recommends for everyone 12 years and older. Using facts from the CDC, we hope to answer your questions and equip you with the knowledge you and your children deserve so you can feel confident in your decision. You can schedule a COVID-19 vaccination in Rhode Island at vaccinateri.org.

Which COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for children?
At this time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given emergency authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for young people aged 12 to 17. While the vaccine was authorized for use in 16- and 17-year-olds in December, priority status for vaccine distribution for older teens was delayed until April in most states.

Will my child experience side effects from the vaccine? Are they different than the side effects for adults?
Similar to adults, the most commonly reported side effects in adolescent participants were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever, and joint pain. Side effects usually last one to three days. According to the FDA, fevers were slightly more common in 12- to 15-year-olds compared to adults in the adolescent clinical trials.

Was the COVID-19 vaccine tested on children?
Yes. In the study group of adolescents ages 12 to 15, the Pfizer vaccine was 100% effective in protection against infection from COVID-19. All clinical trials continue to follow participants, and the teens in this study continue to be tested every two weeks for coronavirus infection.

Should my child get the vaccine if they have allergies? 
Tell the doctor or nurse about any allergies your child may have. Children should not get the Pfizer vaccine if they have a history of severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in the vaccine. The vaccine does not contain eggs, preservatives, or latex. If your child has severe allergies to other substances (medications, bee stings, foods), plan to stay at the vaccination site after injection for 30 minutes, rather than the recommended 15.

Children have a lower risk of getting COVID-19. Why can’t I wait until there is more data to get my child vaccinated?
While children are less likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19, they are still at risk of contracting COVID-19 as asymptomatic infections (infections with no symptoms), and some have developed serious complications and death. There are also growing concerns about the long-term effects of the COVID-19 viral infection (multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, MIS-C) for some children who get COVID-19. Importantly, children can still inadvertently and asymptomatically transmit the virus to others, and children under 12 do not yet have a vaccine available.

If my child already had COVID-19, should they still get the vaccine?
Yes. Health experts recommend the COVID-19 vaccine even for people who have had a COVID-19 infection. Although infection likely provides some immunity to reinfection, we don’t know yet how long natural immunity lasts. So, it’s important to still get vaccinated even if they’ve had COVID-19 to protect themselves and others.

If my child recently got another vaccination, can they still get the COVID-19 vaccine?
COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines can be given on the same day. The CDC previously said children and adults should wait two weeks before or after a COVID-19 vaccine to receive any other vaccine as a precautionary measure in the early days of the vaccine distribution. The CDC’s most recent guidance states that COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines can be given without regard to timing. If multiple vaccines are administered at a single visit, the injections may be given in different parts of the body.

Do children receive the same amount of the vaccine as adults?
The dosage of Pfizer vaccine authorized for children 12 to 15 is the same as dosage given to adults. This includes two doses of 30 micrograms each, given three weeks apart. When the FDA authorizes the vaccine for younger children, it is possible that the recommended doses will be different than those given to adults.

Can I give my child any medications before their vaccine to minimize the side effects?
You should not give your child any pain relievers before getting vaccinated, or right after the vaccine. Wait to see if symptoms develop and your child expresses discomfort before giving any medication. If your child develops a headache, body aches, or other side effects requiring pain relief, it is fine to give them the recommended dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil).

When will children under the age of 12 be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine?
It is anticipated that a COVID-19 vaccine may be available for younger children later in 2021.

Where can my child get vaccinated?
Pre-teens and teens can get the vaccine at a variety of locations, including at some pediatricians’ offices. Vaccines are also offered at some pharmacies and school-based clinics. Check your local health department websites or with your pediatrician for details. In Rhode Island, you can schedule a COVID-19 vaccination at vaccinateri.org.

Do I need to make my child an appointment?
Some sites may require appointments, while others will offer shots on a walk-in basis. Check your local health department website or with your pediatrician for details. In Rhode Island, find out more at the Department of Health website

Does my child need to prove their age or will I need to be with them when they receive the shot?
States have varying requirements over what counts as proof of age and whether they need parental consent. Check your local health department websites or with your pediatrician for detail. In Rhode Island, a parent or guardian will need to give consent first on vaccinateri.org or before vaccination on site. Adolescents age 12-15 cannot get a vaccine appointment without consent from a parent or guardian. 

Since the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is the only one currently approved for use in 12-15-year-olds, providers are checking for age to ensure they are giving the correct vaccine.

Can schools require COVID-19 vaccines for students to attend?
It depends on whether your child attends a public or private school. Private schools, day care centers and camps can decide whether to require students to be vaccinated as a condition of returning to school or the facility.

Vaccine requirements for public school largely depend on the state. While all 50 states have legislation requiring specific vaccines for students, no state currently requires children to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to return to school. Exemptions to school immunization requirements vary, but all states grant exemptions to children for medical reasons, and many grant exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons.

How does the COVID-19 vaccine work?
The approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine; it contains a bit of RNA (ribonucleic acid) that teaches the cells of the body how to make a protein that causes the immune system to make COVID-19 antibodies to protect us from the disease. This means the vaccine helps our bodies remember how to fight the virus if we’re infected in the future.

For more information about COVID-19 topics and how the pandemic can affect you and your family, visit cdc.gov/COVID19. You can also contact your pediatrician’s office or your local health department for additional COVID-19 vaccine information. In Rhode Island, find out more at the Department of Health website

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that vaccine recipients or their caregivers are provided with Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) fact sheets to help make informed decisions about vaccination. The EUA fact sheet is specific to each authorized COVID-19 vaccine, is developed by the manufacturer of the vaccine, and is authorized by the FDA. Links to the fact sheet documents are available at cdc.gov.

©2021 Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. All Rights Reserved. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association is an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies. Information included is accurate as of 5/31/2021,  but is subject to change.