During the pandemic, the COVID-19 vaccines helped control the spread of COVID-19 and prevented severe symptoms. Since those initial vaccines came out, new strains of the coronavirus have circulated. In response, the COVID-19 vaccine formulas have changed so they remain as effective as possible. The same process occurs each year for the annual flu vaccine.

For the 2023-2024 cold and flu season, a new COVID-19 vaccine is available for adults and children. Below, we explain why COVID-19 vaccines for kids are still important and answer other common questions about COVID-19 vaccines for infants, kids and teens.

What’s the latest on the COVID-19 vaccine?

The mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) were updated in September 2023 to provide better protection against the COVID-19 strains that are currently more common (the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariants).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all children 6 months old or older receive the updated vaccine, whether or not they have been previously vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccination schedule for children

The number of vaccine doses your child needs depends on their age, vaccination status and overall health.

6 months to 4 years old

Children in this age group may need multiple doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to be up to date. This depends on the number of previous doses received, age and if they have a weak immune system.

When possible, the same brand (Moderna or Pfizer) should be used for all doses for children in this age group.

5 years and older

It’s recommended that everyone age 5 and older get one dose of the updated mRNA COVID vaccine. The brand of vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) can be different from the brand given in the initial series. The updated formula should be given at least 2 months after their previous dose.

Additional doses for children who are immunocompromised

The CDC recommends that moderately to severely immunocompromised children have three or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, including at least one updated mRNA vaccine, given at least 2 months since their last dose. Depending on your child’s needs, their doctor may recommend additional doses, spaced 2 months apart.

Alternative vaccine for older kids: The spike protein vaccine

While an updated mRNA vaccine is the preferred option, a spike protein vaccine (Novavax) exists for children 12 years and older who do not want or cannot have an mRNA vaccine. This vaccine hasn’t been updated to protect against the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariants. It also isn't widely available, so make sure to check availability if it’s your preferred option.

Why is it important for children to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 has changed since the pandemic. While there are still new cases, few come with severe symptoms. Plus, kids are less likely to get COVID-19, and if they do get sick, it’s usually mild. COVID-19 can be treated at home – but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Children still have been hospitalized and died because of their symptoms.

It’s also important to remember that your child’s symptoms may not end when their COVID-19 infection goes away. After COVID-19, children can experience long-term COVID-19 symptoms that could last for weeks or months.

Being vaccinated reduces the chance of your child getting sick. And if they get breakthrough COVID-19 after being vaccinated, they may be less likely to have lingering symptoms – studies show that, in adults, the chance of getting long COVID is 50% lower if you’re fully vaccinated.

Also, keep in mind that your unvaccinated child can pose a risk to others, including people with weakened immune systems and the elderly. Even a mild case of COVID-19 can spread, and if someone else gets it – like an immunocompromised grandparent – they may need treatments to protect against severe COVID-19.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine effective in kids and teens?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccine gives your child excellent protection against the coronavirus. Once vaccinated, an infant, kid or teenager has a much lower risk of developing COVID-19, with the greatest protection coming against severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine effective against new variants?

Yes. Since the pandemic, the COVID-19 vaccine has been updated several times to account for newer variants. The current vaccine formula has been updated with the latest strains for this season, just like scientists do for the flu vaccine each year.

Does it take any longer for infants, kids or teens to develop protection after getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

No. Just like in adults, it takes about two weeks for a child’s body to build up protection following a vaccine. But younger children may need multiple doses to get all the protection they need. So if a COVID-19 vaccine requires more than one dose, it’s important for your child to get all recommended doses in order to be considered fully immunized.

Is the COVID vaccine safe for kids?

Yes. The vaccine was extensively tested before public health officials authorized its use and is shown to be safe in children ages 6 months old and older. The COVID-19 vaccine works the same way in infants, kids and teenagers as it does in adults – there are no additional risks, extra hazards or unusual side effects.

What are the COVID-19 vaccine side effects for infants, kids and teens?

The side effects in children are the same as in adults: temporary, mild to moderate, and manageable with over-the-counter remedies.

In a few cases, we’ve seen kids and teens feel side effects a bit more strongly than adults. But that’s actually a good thing: younger people tend to have more robust immune systems, so it’s a sign the vaccine is creating a healthy response as it trains the body.

What should I know about the COVID-19 vaccine and heart problems?

You may have heard that some people had inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or inflammation of the sac around the heart (pericarditis) after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

The chance of this happening is extremely rare. While the chance of heart inflammation is low for everyone, it’s more likely to occur in males between the ages of 12-39 years. In the rare event that inflammation happens after getting a COVID-19 vaccination, it’s usually very mild and people make a full recovery.

Health officials continue to recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for all children because if your child gets infected with COVID-19, they are more likely to get heart inflammation than they would from the COVID-19 vaccine. In one study, myocarditis in males 12-17 years old was 1.5 to 5.6 times more likely after a COVID-19 infection compared to the COVID-19 vaccination, according to the CDC.

Does the COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility later in life?

No. There’s no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine affects development or fertility. The vaccine doesn’t change the body’s DNA or functioning in any way. Instead, it teaches the body’s immune system to recognize and fight the coronavirus in case it’s ever encountered.

How can kids and teens get a COVID-19 vaccine?

It’s easy to set up an appointment for your child or teenager. Patients under 18 years old, or their parent or guardian, can schedule online or call a primary care clinic.

Keep in mind that for patients younger than 18 years old, additional information about the patient’s parent or guardian must be provided in order to schedule the appointment.

Do I need to be with my child when they get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. A parent or guardian must attend vaccine appointments with their child. This is an important thing to remember (especially for teenagers who can drive themselves). Parental consent is required for anyone under 18 years old to be vaccinated.

Can a COVID-19 vaccine be given at the same time as other shots?

Yes. There’s no waiting period between receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and receiving other vaccines. That means kids can get vaccinated on any schedule or get multiple vaccinations at the same appointment.

It’s especially important that children keep up with their doctor-recommended vaccination schedule while also getting protected against COVID-19.

Keep your kids and our community safe

Thanks to the COVID-19 vaccines and the safety precautions you and others have taken since 2020, life is more normal again. But the COVID-19 virus isn’t gone – it’s still causing new infections and deaths each day. The good news is that most severe illnesses and deaths can be prevented by getting vaccinated.

We all want our kids to do the things that make childhood fun. The COVID-19 vaccines can keep them safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 so our kids can keep doing the things they love.