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COVID-19 vaccines for children—your questions answered

Two young boys at a vaccine clinic with their mother. All three, plus the vaccine clinic worker are wearing face masks

This article was written during the Queensland response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects the information available at the date of publication. Please check the Australian Department of Health COVID-19 webpage for updated information and current health advice regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations in Queensland.

Queensland children aged 5 to 11 are now eligible to receive free COVID-19 vaccines. Children aged 12 to 17 are also eligible to get vaccinated.

It’s natural for parents to have questions about a medication or medical procedure recommended for their child. Even if you have already had your own COVID-19 vaccine, you might have questions to consider before booking your child in.

Below, we’ve addressed everything from expected side effects to ingredients to preparing children for needles, to help you get ready for your child’s COVID-19 vaccination.

Why are we vaccinating children for COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a serious illness that can affect everyone in the Queensland community. Getting vaccinated can help prevent your child from becoming seriously unwell with COVID-19. It can also make them less likely to pass COVID-19 on to others.

What COVID-19 vaccines can children have in Queensland?

Children aged 5 to 11 can get the Pfizer (Comirnaty) vaccine. The dose of vaccine given to children in this age group is less than the dose given to older children and adults. Children aged 5 to 11 should have their second Pfizer vaccine dose 8 weeks after their first dose.

Children aged 12 to 17 can have either the Pfizer (Comirnaty) or the Moderna (Spikevax) vaccine. They should have their second Pfizer vaccine dose 3-6 weeks after their first dose. The Moderna vaccine second dose should be given 4-6 weeks after the first dose. It is important that children receive two doses of the same vaccine.

How did we pick which COVID-19 vaccines can be given to children?

Once the COVID-19 pandemic started, medical research teams around the world worked to create vaccines that would provide protection from the disease. This means that a number of COVID-19 vaccines exist.

In Australia, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) advise on which vaccines should be used in our population. They consider studies and real-world evidence from vaccination programs in other countries, and then make recommendations to the Federal Minister for Health. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) then decides whether to approve the use of the vaccine in the recommended groups of people. The TGA again consider how well the vaccines work and how safe they are, before approving them for use.

After approving COVID-19 vaccines for adults, ATAGI waited to see extra evidence about which COVID-19 vaccines worked best in children and were safe for use in children, before recommending the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children aged 12 to 17.A young girl holds hands with her father at a vaccine clinic

What studies have been done looking at the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for children?

Many studies have been undertaken researching which COVID-19 vaccines work best in children and are safe for use in children. For example, in its recommendation for using the Pfizer vaccine in children aged 5 to 11, ATAGI cites this study published in The New England Journal of Medicine as evidence that the vaccine is effective in this age group, and also refers to evidence from other countries’ vaccine programs which shows the safety of the vaccine for this age group.

You can find the ATAGI’s recommendations and a list of the studies they considered on the Australian Department of Health website for children aged 5 to 11 and children aged 12 to 17.

What is in the COVID-19 vaccine given to children?

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both mRNA vaccines and are made up of two main sets of ingredients: the active ingredient, which is what will work with your child’s immune system to stimulate an immune response to COVID-19, and some inactive ingredients. The inactive ingredients do things like help the active ingredient stay stable and do its job once it is in the body and are mostly made up of salts and fats.

In mRNA vaccines, which stands for messenger ribonucleic acid, the mRNA is the active ingredient. You can see a full breakdown of the ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine on the TGA website.

What is an mRNA vaccine?

mRNA vaccines are different to a lot of other vaccines, because they don’t contain any pieces of the COVID-19 virus. Instead, the vaccine teaches the body to make a part of the virus called the “spike protein”. The body then recognises the spike protein as a threat and triggers an immune response, releasing antibodies and T-Cells that will be used to protect the body against COVID-19 infection in the future.

John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have released a great video that explains how the mRNA vaccines work – you can watch it yourself or with older children to understand exactly how the vaccine will work in their body.

How do I book my child in for their COVID-19 vaccine?

Use the COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Finder to find a clinic near you that suits your needs by answering some simple questions. You can also book for yourself or someone else.

My child has had COVID-19 – do they still need to get vaccinated?

Research is still ongoing to find out how long natural immunity to COVID-19 lasts after infection. Protection varies from person to person, and it is possible to get COVID-19 more than once.

It is safe and recommended for your child to have their COVID-19 vaccine after they have recovered from COVID-19 and are no longer in isolation.

Why should children get vaccinated if they’re not likely to get very sick from COVID-19?

While it’s rare for children to become severely unwell or die from COVID-19, it is possible for children to get very sick with the disease, and vaccination can help prevent the need for hospital or ICU care. Vaccination can also help prevent milder but still uncomfortable symptoms like headache, sore throat, cough or fever.

Vaccination can also reduce the risk that your child will spread COVID-19 to others. There are many people in our community who are at greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19. The more people who choose to get vaccinated, the great protection is offered to our community as a whole.

There are also other benefits to vaccinating children in this age group. Vaccination of children can lower the chance that schools need to be closed to help control the spread of COVID-19, makes it less likely that children have to miss out on activities and events, and makes it less likely that their parents and carers will need to make special arrangements (like missing work) to look after them and isolate because they have caught COVID-19.

Do I need to give my consent for my child to be vaccinated for COVID-19?

You will need to sign a consent form to allow your child aged 5 to 11 to be vaccinated.

Children aged 12 to 15 may require a consent form but may also be considered mature enough to provide their own consent to be vaccinated. Young people who wish to provide their own informed consent should speak to their vaccinating clinician.

People over the age of 16 are generally considered to have the capacity to consent for vaccination.

What are the risks of getting the vaccine?

Every medical procedure comes with some risks. For the COVID-19 vaccine and children, the most common risks are minor side effects similar to the ones you’d expect from any vaccination.

Common side effects include:

  • Pain, redness or swelling where the needle went in
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Fever and chills.

Other, less common, side effects include:

  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Vomiting.

If your child is uncomfortable with the above side effects, you can give them paracetamol or ibuprofen.

There is the possibility of rare, more serious side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. These include:

  • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
  • Pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart)

These side effects require medical attention. You should seek urgent medical attention if:

  • Your child has symptoms of a severe allergic reaction including difficulty breathing, wheezing, a fast heartbeat or if they collapse
  • Chest pain, pressure or discomfort, irregular heartbeat, skipped beats or a “fluttering” feeling, fainting, shortness of breath, pain with breathing

You should see your GP if your child experiences a new or unexpected side effect that worries you, or if they have expected side effects (like headache, sore arm or fever) that haven’t gone away after a few days.

Could the vaccine make my child infertile?

There is no evidence that any vaccines impact fertility, including vaccines for COVID-19. When approving vaccines for use in Australia, the TGA assesses the safety of the vaccine, including impacts on fertility.

The myth that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines could affect fertility came about because some people thought the spike proteins in COVID-19 (which the vaccine helps the body develop) are the same as the spike proteins found in the placenta, the organ which develops in the uterus and supports the baby during pregnancy. They were worried that in the future, a pregnant person’s placenta would see the spike protein and reject the pregnancy. This is untrue; the two spike proteins are not the same, nor are they similar enough to affect how the placenta will work in a future pregnancy.

Millions of people around the world have already had mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and then gone on to conceive, carry and birth healthy babies.

I am seeing and hearing stories about children being harmed by the COVID-19 vaccines – how can I tell if they are true?

There are many reasons people spread misinformation about vaccines and other forms of healthcare. It can be hard to tell whether stories you hear online or from a friend or relative have any truth to them, but they can still leave a scary picture in your mind. If you have any concerns about vaccines and your child, you should speak to your GP or vaccine provider.

Why can’t children under 5 get vaccinated?

Studies are still underway into how the COVID-19 vaccines work and their safety for use in very young children and babies. For now, everyone in our community can help protect children under 5 from COVID-19 by helping to reduce the spread by getting vaccinated, social distancing, wearing masks and washing our hands thoroughly and often.

Do children need COVID-19 vaccine boosters?

COVID-19 vaccine boosters are not yet recommended for people aged under 18.

A young boy holding a soft toy is comforted by a nurse and his mother after receiving his vaccine

My child is scared of needles – how can I help to prepare them for their COVID-19 vaccination?

Needles can seem scary to children, but there are things parents and carers can do to help make the experience a lot more pleasant. The Vaccination Matters website has a list of steps you can take to help support you child through getting their vaccine, from being honest with them about what’s going to happen, to bringing along a distraction or two that will keep them busy.

My child is booked to get other vaccines soon – do I need to wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

It is safe for your child to receive their COVID-19 vaccine before or after other vaccines. It’s a good idea to let your vaccine provider know that they have or will recently get other vaccines, so they can assess any side effects that come up.

If your child is due to get other routine vaccines at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine provider will decide and discuss with you whether to do them at the same time or separately.

Last updated: 21 January 2022