The COVID-19 Vaccine for School-Aged New Yorkers
Can kids really catch COVID-19?
Yes. Kids can contract the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as spread it to others. Just like adults, adolescents are also at risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19, particularly if they are unvaccinated.
What are the risks of my child being unvaccinated?
Those who are unvaccinated have the greatest risk of infection and severe disease from COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. This is true for individuals of all ages, including adolescents. Vaccinating adolescents will help protect them from getting COVID-19 and reduce their risk of severe disease, hospitalizations, or developing long-term COVID-19 complications. That’s why the New York State Department of Health urges all eligible New Yorkers including adolescents ages 12 through 17 to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible so they are protected against the virus, healthy, and safe.
What is long COVID, and is my child at risk?
Adolescents who contract COVID-19 may be at risk of long COVID. Symptoms associated with long COVID can vary widely, from cardiovascular symptoms like heart palpitations to difficulty breathing and excessive fatigue and can include difficulty concentrating or other psychological symptoms. Long COVID symptoms can occur even if the initial COVID illness is not severe and can last for months or even a year. Scientists are still working to understand long COVID.
My child tested positive for COVID-19 and/or COVID-19 antibodies. Do they still need the vaccine?
Yes! The CDC recommends that individuals get vaccinated even if they have already had COVID-19, because they can be infected more than once. While your child may have some short-term immunity after recovering from COVID-19, we don’t know how long this protection will last. Vaccination is the best protection, and it is safe. People who get COVID-19 may have serious illnesses, and some have debilitating symptoms that persist for months.
Is it better for my child to get natural immunity to COVID-19, rather than immunity from a vaccine?
No! While your child may have some short-term immunity after recovering from COVID-19, we don’t know how long this protection lasts. Vaccination is the best protection, and it is safe. People who get COVID-19 can have serious illnesses, and some have debilitating symptoms that persist for months.
Vaccine Safety, Efficacy & Development
Which vaccine is currently available for my child age 12 through 17?
At this time, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is currently available for adolescents age 12 through 17.
Why is only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available for adolescents age 12 through 17?
When a vaccine or medicine is authorized for emergency use by the FDA, it must meet rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was first authorized for emergency use on December 11, 2020, for admission in individuals 16 years of age and older. On May 10, 2021, this emergency use authorization (EUA) was expanded to include adolescents 12 through 15 years of age. The FDA found that the Pfizer vaccine met the statutory criteria to allow the FDA to amend their EUA, finding that the known and potential benefits of the vaccine in individuals 12 years of age and older outweighed the known and potential risks. To make this determination, the FDA studied available safety data from an ongoing randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial in the United States that included 2,260 participants ages 12 through 15. More than half of the participants were followed for safety for at least two months following the second dose. On August 23, 2021, the FDA announced that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been fully approved for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals age 16 and older. On October 29, 2021 the FDA authorized Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for administration to children 5 through 11 years of age.
Other COVID-19 vaccines may eventually be available to children and adolescents once the FDA determines they meet their rigorous standards for emergency use authorization or approval.
What are the side effects my child may experience after being vaccinated?
Your child may not notice any changes in how they feel after getting the vaccine. But it’s also possible to feel a little “under the weather.” This can happen after any vaccine.
After the COVID-19 vaccine, your child may have:
- A sore arm where they got the shot
- A headache
- Nausea and vomiting
These side effects are not dangerous and are just a sign of your child’s immune system doing its job. They are easily treatable with over-the-counter pain medicine and fever reducers, and usually only last for a short period of time. If your child still doesn’t feel well after two or three days, you can reach out to their health care provider.
How were the vaccines developed so quickly?
There are many factors that combined to allow the COVID-19 vaccine to be developed quickly and safely.
- Researchers got a head start on developing a vaccine because the virus that causes COVID-19 is similar to other existing viruses.
- Research about the new virus was shared almost immediately with scientists all over the world, which allowed work to begin on a vaccine right away.
- Some researchers were able to run phase one and two trials at the same time.
- The studies on COVID-19 included a larger number of people than other recent vaccine trials, meaning there were a larger number of people in the trials over a shorter period of time.
- The federal government allowed manufacturing of the most promising vaccines to begin while the studies were ongoing. That means that when it is authorized it can be offered to the public almost immediately.
Does the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine contain animal-based ingredients?
No! The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine contains no human or animal products, preservatives or adjuvants and utilize no ingredients of human or animal origin.
Do COVID-19 vaccines contain mercury/thimerosal?
No! There are no preservatives such as mercury/thimerosal in any of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
What’s in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine includes the following ingredients:
- mRNA: mRNA is not the virus itself. The mRNA vaccines (like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) teach your body to create proteins. Your body recognizes these proteins and jumps into action, making antibodies that help you fight the virus, which is called an immune response. It reproduces the same immune response that happens in a natural infection without actually infecting your body.
- Lipids: fat-like substances that protect the mRNA and provide a bit of greasy exterior that helps the mRNA slide inside the cells. The following lipids are in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2 [(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3- phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.
- Salts: help balance the acidity in your body. The following salts are in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, and dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate.
- Sugar: helps the molecules keep their shape during freezing. The following sugars are in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: sucrose (table sugar).
For a simple breakdown of the ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, see this infographic here.
Allergies and/or Reporting Adverse Events
Who should not get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?
According to the FDA, individuals should not get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine if they:
- had a severe allergic reaction after a previous dose of this vaccine
- had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient of this vaccine.
Is it possible for my child to have an allergic reaction?
There is a remote chance that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could cause an allergic reaction. People can have allergic reactions to any medication or biological product, including vaccines. Most allergic reactions occur shortly after a vaccine is administered, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that persons with a history of anaphylaxis (due to any cause) are observed for 30 minutes after vaccination, while all other persons are observed for 15 minutes after vaccination. All vaccination sites must be equipped to ensure appropriate medical treatment is available in the event of an unlikely allergic reaction. The CDC recommends anyone with an allergy to "any component" of the vaccine not get the vaccine.
What are the signs of a severe allergic reaction to the Pfizer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?
The chance of a severe allergic reaction is remote. Severe allergic reactions usually occur within minutes after getting a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Signs of a severe allergic reaction can include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of your face and throat
- A fast heartbeat
- A bad rash all over your body
- Dizziness and weakness
What are the risks of my child having myocarditis and pericarditis from the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?
The chance of having this occur is very low. Cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart) in adolescents and young adults have been reported more often after getting the second dose than after the first dose of one of these two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. These reports are rare and the known and potential benefits of COVID-19 vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks, including the possible risk of myocarditis or pericarditis. The FDA advises that you tell the vaccination provider about your child’s medical conditions, including if your child has had myocarditis or pericarditis in the past. You should seek medical attention right away if your child has any of the following symptoms after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart
Are other choices available for preventing COVID-19 in adolescents age 12 through 17 besides the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine?
According to the FDA, currently there is no authorized alternative vaccine available for prevention of COVID-19. Other COVID-19 vaccines may eventually be available to adolescents once the FDA determines they meet their rigorous standards for emergency use authorization or approval.
What you can do to help others if you and your child are already vaccinated?
- Share your vaccine story, and your child’s vaccine story and experience with friends, family, and on social media.
- Talk about the emotional and physical benefits of you and your child being vaccinated.
- Help friends, family, and community members access the COVID-19 vaccine by helping them find a vaccine site, schedule an appointment, or get them to their shot.
- Help friends, family, and community members access COVID-19 vaccine education by listening to their questions and sharing the facts – you can find even more frequently asked questions and trusted information on New York's COVID-19 Vaccine website.
Resources for Schools
NYS Department of Health wants to ensure that members of the school community have access to accurate and relevant public health resources to support in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The links below include toolkits, webinars, and other resources to assist school communities in planning for a return to safe, in-person instruction.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Resources
NYSDOH recommends schools follow guidance from the CDC and local health departments in planning for in-person instruction.
HHS is asking every school district in America to host at least one pop-up vaccine clinic in the coming weeks as their middle and high school students come back to school. Developed by HHS “We Can Do This,” this toolkit contains materials for school district leaders, teachers, and parents to help increase confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines in their school communities, answer questions, and outline school guidance about COVID-19.
This decision-making tool is designed to help inform next steps after a student becomes sick or reports a COVID-19 diagnosis at school.
Schools and districts who decide to implement screening testing in accordance with CDC guidance may be able to access support through their local health department. In addition, this toolkit developed by the Shah Family Foundation is designed to support school leaders in implementing routine COVID-19 screening testing in their schools.
To support a safe and healthy return to school, the Public Health Communications Collaborative (PHCC) and the COVID Collaborative have created a one-page resource for school administrators, educators, and staff with resources created or curated by the CDC.
This webinar was developed by PHCC to share insights on best practices and strategies for communicating to parents and families about COVID-19 vaccinations and children.
This document was developed by PHCC to provide message guidance and framing for public health officials and others, and it is regularly updated to reflect new developments and emerging issues.
For ready-to-go materials including posters, signage, and information cards that can be used at schools, back to school events, and other community activities, visit the Educational Assets page.