What to Know About Adolescents and COVID-19 Vaccination

September 2021

With the continued spread of the Delta variant, COVID-19 hospitalizations have hit record highs for every age group under 50 as of August 2021. This includes children under 18. Fortunately, the COVID-19 vaccine is now available for anyone 12 and older. If you have a child old enough to be eligible for the vaccine, it is likely that you have some questions about vaccinating your child.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about the COVID vaccines and young people.

What are the benefits of getting my child vaccinated against COVID-19?

The main benefit of getting your child vaccinated against COVID-19 is that they’ll be far less likely to get the disease — and if they do contract it, their case will most likely either be asymptomatic or mild. This is important because although COVID-19 is usually less serious for children and teens, it’s not without risks. As of mid-August 2021, more than 450 kids had died from COVID-19 — and 217 of them were ages 12 to 17.

Adolescents can also experience long-term symptoms from “long COVID” or develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). This complication from COVID usually requires hospitalization and special treatment. As of August 2021, there had been more than 1,350 cases of MIS-C in youth ages 12-20, including 880 cases in kids ages 12 to 15 years old. About one out of every 1,000 children with COVID will develop MIS-C, according to infectious disease pediatrician Paul Offit.

The proportion of teens who experience long-term COVID symptoms is still unclear. Estimates range from 4% to 6% of all those who have a COVID infection.

Even if children have mild infections or no symptoms, they can still transmit the virus to others, including older relatives or friends who are more vulnerable.

What are the most common vaccine side effects in teens?

The side effects from the Pfizer vaccine in those ages 12 to 17 are very similar to the side effects that adults experience. These side effects include soreness and pain in the arm where they receive the vaccine and feeling tired or achy after getting the first or second dose. Other possible side effects include fever, chills, achy muscles or joints, or a headache. These side effects typically go away within two to three days after getting the vaccine, but they may last a few days longer in some people.

Can I get COVID-19 from my child?

The best way to protect yourself from catching COVID from your child is to get vaccinated yourself. However, now that the Delta variant is the dominant variant in the U.S., breakthrough cases are on the rise. That means that there is still a small chance you could catch COVID from your child — and spread it to other people — even if you’re vaccinated.

If your child is returning to in-person school, being unvaccinated increases the chance that your child will catch COVID at school and bring it home to you.

Getting your child vaccinated decreases the chance that your child will catch COVID, which then decreases the chances that you’ll catch COVID from your child.

Will getting the COVID-19 vaccine help my child go back to school, sports, and other activities?

Depending on where you live, your child may need to be vaccinated to participate in certain sports or activities — or they may be able to unmask only if they’re fully vaccinated.

Getting your child vaccinated also means you and your kid won’t have to worry about them catching COVID — or spreading it to vulnerable people or younger siblings and friends. This means they can focus on their schoolwork, sports, or other activities without concerns.

Is my child more likely to develop a COVID infection due to Delta?

The Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was responsible for more than eight in 10 cases of COVID as of August 2021. This variant is twice as contagious as the virus that was circulating last year. This means it is more likely that your child will catch COVID if they are exposed to it.

In addition, your child may face a higher risk of exposure at school compared to last year. Most schools required masks and various forms of distancing during the 2020-2021 school year. But for the 2021-2022 school year, many schools are making masks optional. And they may not be taking any other steps, such as distancing or improved air filtration, to reduce the risk of transmission.

Fortunately, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all students get vaccinated if they are eligible.

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