COVID-19 vaccination recommendations for children
In Australia, COVID-19 vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine is recommended for children aged 5 years and older.
To build the best immunity against COVID-19, children aged 5-11 years should have 2 doses of the Pfizer vaccine 8 weeks apart. Booster doses aren’t currently recommended for children aged 5-11 years.
For children with weak immune systems, the recommendation might be 3 doses.
COVID-19 vaccination is recommended even if your child has had COVID-19. This is because vaccination will give your child better, longer-lasting protection than infection does.
This article is about COVID-19 vaccination for children aged 5-11 years. For children older than this, vaccination with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is recommended. You can read more about COVID-19 vaccination for teenagers.
Why COVID-19 vaccination is important for children
COVID-19 vaccination prevents children from getting very sick, being admitted to intensive care, or dying because of COVID-19. It also reduces their chance of getting long-term symptoms.
Also, when children get vaccinated, they help to protect people who are at risk of getting very sick if they get COVID-19. And they help to protect people who can’t be vaccinated, like younger children or people with complex medical needs.
If fewer people get sick or very sick from COVID-19, there’s less chance of lockdowns and other restrictions. This means children can keep doing all the things that are important for their wellbeing and development, like going to school, seeing friends, doing extracurricular and other community activities, and playing sport.
And when fewer people get sick from COVID-19, there’s also less strain on our health and hospital system.
For more information on when, where and how your child can get vaccinated, go to Australian Government Department of Health – Getting your COVID-19 vaccination. You can also check your state or territory government or health website. And you can talk with your doctor or immunisation provider if you have questions about vaccination and your child.
COVID-19 vaccination safety and effectiveness for children
Global clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines have included children aged 5-11 years. To date, there have been no concerns about the effectiveness or safety of the vaccines for this age group.
Clinical trials have found that a smaller dose is safest and most effective for children aged 5-11 years. This is why the vaccine dose for children aged 5-11 years is smaller than the dose for children aged 12 years and over.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is continually checking that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and working the way they’re supposed to for children across the world.
COVID-19 vaccination side effects
COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Like all medicines, they can still have side effects.
Common, mild side effects
Pain or swelling at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, fever and chills are the most common side effects for children who get COVID-19 vaccines. These are generally mild and last only 1-2 days.
Rare side effects
Anaphylaxis is a possible but very rare side effect of all vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines. Immunisation providers monitor everyone for signs of anaphylaxis for 15 minutes following vaccination.
Myocarditis and pericarditis are other possible but rare side effects of COVID-19 vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine. But younger children are less likely to get these conditions than teenagers, particularly teenage boys.
In the weeks after your child’s vaccination, you should seek urgent medical attention if your child has any of the following – chest pain, shortness of breath, awareness of their heartbeat, or feelings of faintness. Take your child to your GP or a hospital emergency department as soon as possible.
Questions about COVID-19 vaccination and children: what to do
It’s OK to be careful about getting your child vaccinated. If you have questions about side effects or the safety of COVID-19 vaccination, talk with a health professional like your GP or your immunisation provider. These professionals are trustworthy sources of information and can address your concerns.
It’s also essential to get information from reliable and trustworthy online sources. Sources like government websites or the World Health Organization have information that’s based on scientific research. This means you can rely on what they say.
As your child’s main role model, you can influence the way your child feels about vaccination. If you’re positive about COVID-19 vaccination, this can help your child feel positive too.
Preparing for COVID-19 vaccination: talking with children
Children might have varying feelings about COVID-19 vaccination. Many children will be OK with it. But some might be worried about getting an injection. Some might also have heard misinformation from friends or other sources and feel worried about the vaccine.
This means it can help to talk with your child about vaccination before the appointment. When you talk and what you say depends on your child’s age, development and feelings.
For example, some children might prefer to be told on the morning of their appointment. This will stop them overthinking things and feeling more anxious. You could say something like, ‘We’re going to the doctor for some arm medicine, then we’ll go to the park’.
Other children might prefer to be told a few days before the appointment, so they have time to prepare and ask questions. For example, they might want to know what will happen at the appointment, why they need vaccination and whether it will hurt.
It’s always best to give your child clear, accurate, age-appropriate information that they can understand. For example:
- For a child who’s worried about the injection, you could say, ‘The needle might pinch a bit, but it’s over very quickly’.
- For a child who wants to know how vaccination works, you could say, ‘The medicine helps your body make blood soldiers. If you get the virus, the soldiers can fight it for you’.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, tell your child you’ll find out. Make sure you get back to them. And if your child feels nervous or worried, it’s important to acknowledge and name these feelings. This can help your child understand and manage their emotions.
Getting the COVID-19 vaccination: handling children’s injection anxiety or needle phobia
If your child is nervous about injections or has a needle phobia, these tips can help them have a positive experience when they get their COVID-19 vaccination:
- Get vaccinated at a GP clinic or with your child’s usual GP. This might be more private and comfortable for your child.
- If you have questions for the immunisation provider, call ahead to discuss these. Long conversations just before a vaccination can make children more anxious.
- Give your child some choice so they feel more in control of the situation. You could ask which day they want to be vaccinated, what they want to do during the vaccination or what they want to do afterwards.
- Ask the immunisation provider whether they have anaesthetic creams or gels to numb the injection area. If they don’t, you can get creams or gels at a pharmacy and take them to the clinic yourself. Some immunisation providers have a small vibrating device (a ‘buzzy’) that can reduce pain at the injection area.
- Make sure your child is wearing short sleeves. If your child is wearing a jumper, get them to take it off before going in for the appointment.
- Distract your child during the vaccination. For example, get your child to play with noisy toys, watch a video on a tablet or phone, or answer a question like ‘Where’s your favourite place to go on holidays?’
- If your child is older, encourage them to do breathing exercises or relaxation exercises. Your child can practise these exercises beforehand and do them during the vaccination.
If you need extra support, contact your immunisation provider. They can talk with you about the best way to get your child vaccinated.
Some children with severe needle phobia might need to see a psychologist or hypnotherapist to work through their phobia.
For children with autism, disability or other additional needs, you could ask your child’s health or disability professional for some strategies for your child. In some circumstances, you might need to consider sedation for the vaccination. Talk to your child’s doctor or disability professional about the best options for your child.
Other protective measures against COVID-19
All children should take simple protective measures against COVID-19, regardless of whether they’re vaccinated. These measures include:
- maintaining physical distancing, including staying 1.5-2 m away from people you don’t live with if you can
- washing hands and using personal hygiene
- wearing face masks if recommended or required by your state or territory health authorities
- following COVID-19 rules as required by your state or territory health authorities.
You and your child’s other parent might have different opinions about vaccination. A problem-solving approach can help you work through your differences and find the best outcome for your child.