Child checking needle before giving teddy bear a shot

COVID-19 Vaccines and Young Children Frequently Asked Questions

Can children younger than 5 years old get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine has received emergency use authorization by the FDA and the CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for everyone ages 6 months and older.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers?

Yes. The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have carefully reviewed the data submitted from the vaccine producers to ensure the vaccine is safe for children 6 months to 6 years old. Approval is only given if the vaccine is shown to be safe and the reviewers conclude that the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

What brands of COVID-19 vaccine have been approved for young children?

Both Pfizer and Moderna have been approved for young children. The two brands use the same technology, but they have differences. Pfizer’s vaccine for children younger than 5 years old is three doses, and Moderna’s vaccine for children younger than 6 years old is two doses. Pfizer's vaccine is one-tenth the adult dose, and Moderna's vaccine is one-quarter the adult dose.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine effective for children younger than 6 years old?

Yes. The vaccines produce a strong immune response in young children and protect against severe disease. The bivalent vaccine provides improved protection against the more recently circulating viruses.

Will my child be required to get the vaccine for child care entry?

Maybe, but not yet. Each state's government decides which vaccines are required for school or child care entry. California will require students to get vaccinated for COVID-19 after the FDA gives full approval of the vaccine for children. The mandate will first take effect for students 12-18 years old, followed by students 5-11 years old. At this time, there is no requirement for COVID-19 vaccination for child care entry.

If my child had COVID-19 do they still need the vaccine?

Yes. Your child should get the COVID-19 vaccine even if they’ve already had COVID-19. Studies show that people who had COVID-19 and got the vaccine had a stronger immune response than those who had COVID-19 and did not get the vaccine. To reduce the risk of being infected again with COVID-19 or becoming severly ill, children who have had the disease should get the vaccine. Wait until children are no longer infected and check with their health care provider before getting the vaccine.

What is a bivalent vaccine?

Bivalent COVID-19 vaccines have mRNA from the original COVID-19 strain and mRNA from the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5. The bivalent booster is broadly protective against COVID-19, and it provides better protection against the omicron variant than previous boosters.

Can my child get a bivalent booster?

Yes. Children 6 months and older can get a bivalent COVID-19 booster. Encourage parents in your program to talk to their child’s health care provider about their COVID-19 vaccines.
•    Children ages 6 months through 5 years old who completed their Moderna primary series can get a Moderna bivalent booster two months after the final primary series dose.
•    Children 6 months through 4 years old who had all three doses of the Pfizer primary monovalent series more than two months ago can get a Pfizer bivalent booster. Children 6 months through 4 years old who had a bivalent Pfizer vaccine as the third dose in their primary series are not eligble for a booster.

How long will the COVID-19 booster protect my child?

The COVID-19 booster offers the best protection against getting sick with COVID-19 in the short term. Two weeks after getting the vaccine the risk of getting sick is low and the risk gradually goes up over the first six months. However, the vaccine and boosters will continue to provide long-term protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death.

Where do I get the vaccine for my child?

Start by checking with your child’s regular health care provider. The provider may be giving the vaccine to patients in their office or clinic and will be able to answer any questions specific to your child. The California Department of Public Health and local partners are organizing vaccine pop-up clinics, and some school districts will offer the vaccines at school. Parents or legal guardians need to provide signed consent for their child to receive the vaccine.

Are COVID-19 vaccine side effects the same in young children as older children, teens, and adults?

Generally, yes. Your child might have pain where they got the shot and could feel more tired than usual. Minor fever is also possible. These side effects usually clear up within a day or two. Keep in mind, the side effects from the vaccine are mild compared to getting COVID-19.  

How do I talk to my child about getting the COVID-19 vaccine?

It’s important for children to understand that the vaccine is meant to keep them healthy and safe. Be honest that the shot may hurt a bit and that the child might feel tired after they get the shot. Explain that vaccination is the best way for them to be able to participate in activities they have missed during the pandemic, and that getting the shot will protect others as well. Allow children to express their concerns and ask questions. On the day your child gets vaccinated, bring a comfort object, such as a favorite toy. Everyone who receives the vaccine is monitored for at least 15 minutes after getting their shot. So, you might also pack some quiet activities or books to keep your child busy while they are being monitored.

If COVID-19 is less severe in children than adults, why should my child get vaccinated?

Even though children experience less severe COVID-19 than adults, vaccination will protect your child in the following ways:
•    They are less likely to get sick with COVID-19.  Not getting sick is even more important for children with underlying health conditions.
•    They are less likely to get severe illness, be hospitalized, get multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), or die if they get COVID-19.
•    They are less likely to miss school because of being infected with COVID-19.
•    They are less likely to spread COVID-19 to more vulnerable family, friends, teachers, and classmates.
•    Your family will be able to travel more freely with less worry about getting COVID-19.
•    It will be safer for your child to attend important educational, cultural, and social activities and family events.
•    Getting vaccinated can help stop new variants from emerging.

Updated March 2023, UCSF California Childcare Health Program

This article was made possible with funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation.