Vaccines for children: COVID-19

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Importance of vaccination

COVID-19 is having a significant impact on the mental and physical well-being of children, youth and their families.

Although children and youth are less likely to get really sick from COVID-19, they can still:

Children and youth with certain underlying medical conditions may have a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines help the body fight off the virus. Like adults, children and youth are well protected against severe illness 14 days after their second dose. Those who have already had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated to protect themselves from getting it again.

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Possible side effects

Side effects are expected as your body responds to a vaccine.

Some people have no side effects while others may have some type of reaction. Reactions are most often mild and go away by themselves within hours or days.

Common vaccine side effects may include:
Symptoms at the injection site, such as: More general symptoms, such as:
  • redness
  • soreness
  • swelling
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • headache
  • mild fever
  • muscle aches

Myocarditis and pericarditis

Myocarditis and pericarditis is the inflammation of the heart muscle and the lining that surrounds the outside of the heart. We continue to monitor the evolving information about the link between myocarditis, pericarditis and mRNA vaccines. Cases after mRNA vaccination in youth and adults are rare.

Cases after mRNA vaccination in youth and adults are rare. However, they occur less often with the Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine than with the Moderna Spikevax vaccine for people 12 to 29 years of age.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that youth 12 to 17 years old receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine to:

  • start the 2-dose vaccination series
  • complete the series

Talk to your health care provider about the timing for your child’s second dose.

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How the vaccines are studied and tested for children and youth

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were tested in youth through clinical trials. The pediatric formula of the Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine was tested in children 5 to 11 years of age. These clinical trials compared the immune response, safety and effectiveness of the vaccine to a placebo. In these studies:

Millions of children have safely received the pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine in Canada and around the world. Serious side effects continue to be very rare. The evidence continues to demonstrate that the vaccine is effective against severe outcomes and is very safe.

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Monitoring for safety

Vaccine manufacturers continue to collect information about safety from clinical trial participants. Canada’s vaccine safety monitoring system will also help to detect any possible rare side effects that didn’t appear in the clinical trials.

We also have a safety surveillance system in place that is specifically designed for monitoring pediatric vaccinations. The Immunization Monitoring Program ACTive (IMPACT) is a pediatric, hospital-based network administered by the Canadian Paediatric Society. It has been used to monitor childhood immunizations, such as measles, mumps and rubella, for more than 20 years.

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Have a positive vaccination experience

Children and youth may have concerns about vaccination. Knowing what to expect can help ease worries and make vaccination a positive experience for your family.

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Have a family discussion about vaccination

Talk to children and youth about the importance of getting vaccinated.

  • Tell them about vaccination using age-appropriate language.
  • Tell them what will happen and how it will feel.
  • Communicate using neutral language.
    • Try using words such as 'pressure' or 'poke' to describe how it might feel.
    • Avoid misleading information like 'it won't hurt.'
  • Answer their questions and tell them what you'll do to help make it a better experience.
  • Teach them about false information, and make sure they know to:
    • ask questions if they aren't sure
    • verify information before sharing it with others

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At the vaccination appointment

For the vaccination appointment, pick coping strategies based on each child’s needs and preferences. Try:

  • distraction (such as toys, games, music, talking or watching videos)
  • relaxation techniques (such as deep belly breathing)
  • medication to numb the skin (topical anesthetic)
    • this medication dulls the sensation from the needle, and you can get it from the pharmacy without a prescription
    • medication should be applied 30 to 60 minutes before the appointment, so plan ahead

If your child is very afraid of needles, talk to your health care provider about it. They might suggest treatment with an expert such as a psychologist. Treating needle fear can help children to accept vaccination and other needle procedures.

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Vaccines approved for children and youth

Children (5 to 11 years old)

Health Canada has approved a Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine made for children 5 to 11 years old.

This vaccine for children has a smaller dose than the vaccine for those 12 years of age and older. This is because in clinical trials, lower doses provided children with very good protection against COVID-19. It's not clear yet how long protection will last.

It’s recommended that children 5 to 11 years old receive 2 doses of the vaccine. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that the second dose should be given at least 8 weeks after the first dose.

Children that are moderately to severely immunocompromised should receive 3 doses. The recommended interval is 4 to 8 weeks between each dose. Children who turn 12 before their second dose may receive an adult dose for their second dose.

If your child has tested positive for COVID-19, they can receive the vaccine once they:

If possible, children shouldn't receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine within 14 days of other vaccines, such as the flu vaccine. This is a precaution to monitor any side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine or another vaccine. In some cases, your child's health care provider may recommend a vaccine that's needed urgently. This may happen even if your child has received the COVID-19 vaccine in the past 2 weeks.

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Youth (12 to 17 years old)

Health Canada has approved the following mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for youth 12 years of age and older:

The Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty vaccine is preferred for the primary series in people 12 to 29 years old. This is to further minimize the rare risk of myocarditis following vaccination in this age group.

People 12 to 17 years old should receive 2 doses of the vaccine 8 weeks apart.

Adults and youth may receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time, or any time before or after, other vaccines.

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Protect unvaccinated children

Unvaccinated children are more likely to get sick from COVID-19 compared to those who are vaccinated. Vaccinating those who interact with children, including caregivers, will help to protect children.

Regardless of your vaccination status, continue to:

It's important to respect choices made by caregivers. We'll continue to provide updates as more data emerges to help caregivers make an informed decision about COVID-19 vaccination.

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