COVID-19 Vaccines and Your Family

drawing of family getting their COVID-19 vaccines

Key Takeaways

  • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are available for people ages 6 months and older and the Novavax vaccine is available for people ages 12 and older. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is available for people ages 18 and older, however, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are preferred.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the 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 four companies are available: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), and Novavax. 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, it's clear that the vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way to keep our families and communities safe, says Robert Frenck, MD, lead investigator of the COVID-19 vaccine trials at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. 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 6 months 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 6 months to 15. A 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 Moderna vaccine is available for children aged 6 months to 17. The FDA has also issued an EUA for the Novavax vaccine for people ages 12 and older.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are recommended over the J&J vaccine, except in select circumstances. The J&J vaccine is now used for those who are allergic to any ingredient in the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or who do not have access to those vaccines.

The CDC recommends bivalent booster shots, which protect against the Omicron variant, for adults and children aged 5 to 17, too, as long as it has been at least two months since their last shot. Five-year-olds must get a Pfizer booster, while anyone ages 6 and up can get either a Pfizer or a Moderna booster.

Children between 6 months and 4 years old may also be eligible for bivalent booster shots.

  • Children in this age group who completed the Moderna primary series (two doses) can get a Moderna bivalent booster two months after their most recent shot.
  • Children who are still in the process of getting their three Pfizer primary series shots will get a bivalent booster as their third shot.
  • Children who have completed the three-shot Pfizer series do not need a booster yet.

Vaccine Rates in the U.S.

As of November 30, 2022, over 80% of the population in the United States has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. More than 228 million Americans—over 68% of the U.S. population has completed the primary series. However, only about 13% of Americans 5 years old and up have received the bivalent booster.

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:

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

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, including hospitalization, ICU admission, and death.

— Robert Frenck, MD

Are Children Eligible to Receive a COVID-19 Vaccine? 

By December 1, 2022, over 15 million children had tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, according to data collected by the AAP. That's 18% of all cases. However, the AAP notes that the number of reported cases is likely a "substantial undercount."

Kids as young as 6 months old can get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Only adults are eligible at this point to get the J&J vaccine. In March 2021, Pfizer and Moderna both began trials of their COVID-19 vaccines in children 6 months to 12 years. By June 2022, Pfizer and Moderna vaccine formulations for various age ranges became available for children ages 6 months and up. In August 2022, the Novavax vaccine became available for people ages 12 years and up and the company is planning to begin trials in younger children.

COVID-19 vaccines should not be used "off label" in kids who are not yet age-eligible to receive them, 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," Dr. Nachman says.

illustration about covid vaccine questions

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

Can Kids Be Around People Who Have Been Vaccinated?

Some families question whether kids can interact with vaccinated relatives—such as grandparents.

The vaccine itself cannot transport the virus to others. “None of the vaccinations have any live or killed whole-cell virus,” says Dr. 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. However, the Omicron variant (currently dominant in the U.S.) spreads more easily than previous variants. Even a vaccinated person who gets infected with the Omicron variant may spread it to others.

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, the CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask in crowded indoor spaces when local transmission levels are high.

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.

However, other studies have shown that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines do not increase the risk of miscarriage (when given before pregnancy or within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy). And research has also shown no association between the vaccines and pregnancy complications, such as pre-term birth and stillbirth.

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," Dr. 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. The FDA and CDC lifted the pause after a thorough safety review, however, the J&J vaccine is now only recommended for limited populations.

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 supports this, indicating that when pregnant parents are vaccinated or boosted, babies have detectable antibodies in their blood.

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 Dr. 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,” Dr. 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 Dr. Nachman. "With all of the individuals who had COVID-19, we have not seen any drop in female fertility.”

Dr. 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," she says.

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:

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

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

Dr. 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
  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothes around the injection site
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Moving your arm after you get the shot

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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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 Dr. 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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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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By Sarah Fielding
Sarah Fielding is a freelance writer covering a range of topics with a focus on mental health and women's issues.