COVID-19 Vaccines and Your Family

drawing of family getting their covid-19 vaccines

Key Takeaways

  • The Pfizer vaccine is available for people ages 5 and older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available for people ages 18 and older.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all eligible children and teens be vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Top U.S. medical organizations strongly recommend the COVID-19 vaccine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Unvaccinated children and adults should still practice social distancing and mask-wearing in indoor or crowded spaces.

In the United States, COVID-19 vaccines from three companies are available: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson (J&J). With some misinformation still circulating, it’s important to find science-backed answers to all your vaccine questions.

As scientists and medical professionals continue to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines, the path forward will be clearer. Here is the latest information available about the COVID-19 vaccines that you and your family should know.

A Word From Verywell Family

Verywell Family strives to provide our readers with the most up-to-date and medically accurate information possible but recognizes that the situation surrounding kids and COVID-19 vaccines is rapidly evolving.

We encourage you to check back regularly as we are always updating articles and will continue to share all progress being made on the topic.

Who Is Eligible for the Vaccine?

Everyone ages 5 and older can—and should—receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has formally approved the two-dose Pfizer vaccine for those ages 16 and older and has issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for children ages 5 to 15. An EUA covers people ages 18 and older who prefer to receive either the two-dose Moderna vaccine or the one-dose J&J vaccine.

The CDC recommends booster shots for adults and older teens, too. People ages 16 and 17 who got the Pfizer vaccine to begin with can get a Pfizer booster dose, whereas fully vaccinated people ages 18 and older can receive a booster shot of either the Pfizer, Moderna, or the J&J vaccine.

Talk to a doctor about whether it might be a good idea to get a different brand of vaccine for your booster than you did for your earlier shots. The CDC and FDA say people can "mix and match" vaccines if desired. However, teens ages 16 and 17 who were only able to get the Pfizer vaccine for their first two shots should get a booster dose of Pfizer as well.

Vaccine Rates in the U.S.

As of December 17, 2021, 77% of people in the United States ages 5 and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 203 million Americans—65% of the U.S. population ages 5 and up—are fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 vaccines are widely accessible and free to everyone in the U.S. who is age-eligible to receive them, regardless of their immigration and health insurance status. According to the CDC, you can find a vaccine location by:

  • Visiting
  • Texting your zip code to 438829
  • Calling 1-800-232-0233

You can also check your state's health department website for the latest on vaccine availability and how you can make a vaccine appointment for yourself or a loved one.

Robert Frenck, MD

All COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated very high protection against the development of moderate to severe disease—hospitalization, ICU admission, and death.

— Robert Frenck, MD

When Will Children Be Eligible to Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine? 

By November 2021, more than 6.5 million children had tested positive for COVID-19. Rates in kids have grown: Though children have represented 16.7% of all COVID-19 cases over the course of the pandemic, they accounted for nearly one-quarter of known cases in the week leading up to November 4, 2021.

Kids as young as 5 can get the Pfizer vaccine, but only adults are eligible at this point for the Moderna and J&J vaccines. In March 2021, Pfizer and Moderna both began trials of their COVID-19 vaccines in children 6 months to 12 years. In April 2021, Johnson & Johnson opened up their clinical trials to include adolescents. They also have plans for further trials that will include infants.

“I think a vaccine will be approved for kids down to 3 to 4 years of age by (spring 2022), maybe a bit sooner,” says Dr. Robert Frenck, lead investigator of the COVID-19 vaccine trials at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

COVID-19 vaccines should not be used "off label" in kids who are not yet age-eligible to receive it, according to the CDC and the AAP. It's important that clinical trials are performed and data are collected in children, specifically, so that optimal dosing and other safety considerations are established.

Overall, children are less likely to experience severe effects from COVID-19. A December 2020 review published in the BMJ Archives of Disease in Childhood listed several potential reasons for this phenomenon.

One theory was that since children often have frequent recurring viral infections, their immune system is more easily activated. Another theory is that children tend to be infected with a smaller viral load than adults, who may have more intense levels of exposure at work or while running errands. A smaller viral load has been linked to less severe symptoms.

Vaccination of children is an essential step in returning to normal safely. “If we ever want to really get to community protection, we will need all members of the community to have access to COVID vaccines,” says Sharon Nachman, MD, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and director of the Office of Clinical Trials at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

"By incorporating children into that plan, we will get to the level of community protection we need to stop this pandemic," Nachman says.

illustration about covid vaccine questions

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

Can Kids Be Around People Who Have Been Vaccinated?

With the timeline around a vaccine for preschoolers, toddlers, and babies remaining uncertain, families question whether kids can interact with vaccinated relatives—such as grandparents.

The vaccine itself can not transport the virus to others. “None of the vaccinations have any live or killed whole-cell virus,” says Nachman. “So, there is no chance that either the person who got a vaccine will get COVID-19 from their vaccine, or that any close family member will get COVID-19 from a person who just got a vaccine.”

Studies are ongoing to learn to what extent a vaccinated person can transmit COVID-19. Early data are promising regarding the vaccines' ability to limit transmission. When it comes to the more infectious Delta variant, even though fully vaccinated people with breakthrough cases can be contagious, they seem to spread the virus for a shorter period than unvaccinated people. It's still unclear how vaccines stack up against the newer, also highly infectious Omicron variant.

As previously stated, children can also be infected and transmit the virus. In addition, the vaccines are not 100% effective, meaning a person is still at risk—albeit lower—of contracting COVID-19 even after receiving all required doses.

Unvaccinated people should take special precautions such as masking, maintaining social distance, and maintaining proper hygiene when they are around others outside of their household. Even if you are vaccinated, it's also a good idea (and required, in some locales) to wear a mask in indoor or crowded spaces.

Can You Receive a Vaccine If You're Pregnant or Breastfeeding? 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other top U.S. medical organizations strongly encourage people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 while they are pregnant or breastfeeding.

A study of 35,691 pregnant people found that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines do not appear to have any serious risks for pregnant people. The self-reported data was from the CDC's V-safe smartphone-based surveillance system and the CDC's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and did not include outcomes from any people vaccinated in the first trimester of pregnancy.

While there’s no evidence that the COVID vaccine is riskier for a pregnant person, having the actual virus can be. “While the absolute risk for severe COVID-19 infection is low, the data show that symptomatic pregnant women are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant adults,” says Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, MD, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois.

“It’s important to note that Black and Latinx individuals who are pregnant appear to have a disproportionately higher prevalence of COVID-19 infection and death," Hirshfeld-Cytron says.

Pregnancy is a risk factor for severe illness. In addition, COVID-19 infection during pregnancy increases the risk of preterm birth and may increase the risk for other adverse pregnancy outcomes. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect you from severe illness.

Some vaccines may be a better choice for you than others during pregnancy. For example, in early April 2021, the CDC and FDA paused the J&J vaccination programs due to concerns about a rare form of a blood clot occurring in roughly six out of 6.8 million vaccine recipients. However, the FDA and CDC lifted the pause after a thorough safety review, saying that the benefits of the J&J vaccine far outweigh the risks.

Based on recent data, pregnant and recently pregnant people do not appear to be at greater risk for blood clots after receiving the J&J vaccine. However, the CDC advises that women under 50 be aware of the rare risk of blood clots associated with the J&J vaccine and notes that other vaccines have not had this associated risk.

In a January 2021 study from JAMA Pediatrics, researchers found that coronavirus antibodies transferred across the placenta to the baby in 87% of cases. Further research is necessary to find out if vaccinations may work similarly.

Vaccination during pregnancy has the added benefit of helping to protect your baby for their first few months of life with passive transfer of maternal antibody to an infant after 36 weeks gestation,” says Nachman.  

A vaccinated person who is breastfeeding may also be able to give antibodies to their baby. “Vaccination while lactating has similar benefits to babies with passive transfer of antibody to baby via breast milk,” Nachman adds.

Can the COVID-19 Vaccines Impact Fertility? 

The COVID-19 vaccine cannot negatively impact a person’s fertility. This myth started after a November story claimed that the “head of Pfizer research” called the Pfizer vaccine “female sterilization.”

Not only is the claim untrue and not an accurate representation of what was said, but the person in question, Michael Yeadon, hasn’t worked for Pfizer since 2011, and he was never involved in vaccine development.

The myth alleges that a protein in the placenta, synctin-1, may resemble the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus enough that antibodies made in response to the vaccine would somehow target the placenta. "This is completely untrue,” says Nachman. "With all of the individuals who had COVID-19, we have not seen any drop in female fertility.”

Hirshfeld-Cytron concurs, “Because the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are not composed of live virus, they are not thought to cause an increased risk of infertility, first or second-trimester loss, stillbirth, or congenital anomalies.

In addition, a study published in 2021 found that the COVID vaccine does not impact male fertility. Semen tests of participants before and after vaccination found no significant decreases in sperm parameters.

The long and short of it: There is no evidence that any approved COVID-19 vaccine can impact a person’s fertility.

What Are the Potential Side Effects of the Vaccines? 

Like any vaccine, the available options for COVID have potential side effects. According to the CDC, common side effects of COVID-19 vaccines include:

  • Pain, redness, and swelling in the arm
  • General muscle soreness
  • Flu-like symptoms (such as tiredness, headache, chills, fever, nausea) for a day or two

The effects you feel may be different between the two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. “Some report the second of two jabs brings on more side effects than the first since your immune system is ramped up at that point,” says William W. Li, MD, a physician and scientist. “Some special precautions exist for people who have severe allergic reactions to past vaccines, who have severe food allergies, or those who have had cosmetic fillers.”

William W. Li, MD

Some report the second of two jabs brings on more side effects than the first since your immune system is ramped up at that point. Some special precautions exist for people who have severe allergic reactions to past vaccines, who have severe food allergies, or those who have had cosmetic fillers.

— William W. Li, MD

Li notes that the 15-minute observation period post-injection in the presence of healthcare staff is for catching any serious reactions. You can relieve side effects by:

  • Applying a cool cloth over the injection site
  • Moving your arm after you get the shot
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothes around the injection site

When to Talk to Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor about taking over-the-counter pain relievers for side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, contact your doctor if:

  • The pain or redness gets worse after 24 hours
  • Your side effects concern you or are not going away after a few days

While the potential side effects of receiving a COVID vaccine can be irritating, the impact of catching the virus is far worse. “The risks of not being vaccinated are much higher than receiving the vaccine. As with everything in medicine, it is about the risk versus benefit,” says Li.

“The vaccine has much more benefit, from an individual and societal perspective, than risk. Everyone wants out of the pandemic—and getting vaccinated is the first major step to get there,” says Li.

What This Means for You

Be sure to keep in close touch with your doctor about when it's safe for you and your loved ones to receive the first series of a vaccine or a booster dose. “All of the COVID-19 vaccines have demonstrated very high protection against the development of moderate to severe disease—hospitalization, ICU admission, and death,” says Frenck. “We need to get people vaccinated to end the pandemic. So, if you are offered a vaccine, please take it. It could save your life.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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22 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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