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How to Talk to Your Kids About the COVID-19 Vaccine

little girl with dad getting a vaccine

Marko Geber / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Following FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children age 12 and up, the CDC recommends that everyone 12 years and older get their COVID-19 shot to protect against the virus.
  • Getting your child or teen vaccinated is another step closer to the pre-pandemic activities we all miss.
  • Experts suggest having an honest conversation with your child about the vaccine and making listening to any concerns they have a priority.

On May 10, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include children age 12 and older. It’s a huge step forward in the fight against COVID-19, because the more people who are immunized, the sooner things will return to normal in communities across the country. 

Studies of kids younger than 12 are ongoing, and it’s possible that a vaccine for that age group will be approved later this year. But in the meantime, if you’re the parent of a child age 12 plus, it’s a good time to have the vaccine chat. 

Starting the Conversation

If your child is old enough to get the vaccine, or close to being old enough, it's a good time to talk about why the COVID-19 vaccine is important, how it works, and why they might experience side effects if they get it,” says Jessica Madden, MD, board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist and medical director of Aeroflow Breastpumps.

If you don’t know how to start the conversation, Dr. Madden suggests asking your child what they already know about COVID-19 and vaccines. “You might be surprised to find out that they already know more than you thought, but on the flip side, you might also find out that they have a lot of misinformation in this regard,” she explains. 

Jessica Madden, MD

If your child is old enough to get the vaccine, or close to being old enough, it's a good time to talk about why the COVID-19 vaccine is important, how it works, and why they might experience side effects if they get it.

— Jessica Madden, MD

You could start by explaining why your child will be getting the vaccine, i.e. to protect them from serious illness from COVID-19. It's also a good time to introduce the concept of "herd immunity" and explain that we get vaccinated not only to protect ourselves, but others — and that this is particularly important to prevent the medically vulnerable from getting sick. 

Kevin Ban, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Walgreens, recommends telling your kids that getting the vaccine is one more step toward getting back to pre-pandemic activities like attending school regularly, participating in sports and other activities, and seeing friends and family again.

“It’s important to ask questions and maintain an open dialogue,” Dr. Ban adds. “Parents should focus on the benefits of the vaccine for their children, how it will help protect them, their families and those around them, and the evidence behind that. If applicable, parents can also refer to other routine immunizations their children may have received in the past, noting that the experience will be very similar.” 

The Science Bit

Kids love to ask questions, but luckily you don’t need to have a degree in science to be able to give them a basic understanding of how the vaccine works. 

“Most kids have a good idea of what ‘germs’ are,” says Dr. Madden. “I would explain that germs are bacteria and viruses that pass from person-to-person and can make us sick. When we are exposed to germs, our bodies make antibodies, which are tiny soldiers that fight off and kill germs to keep us healthy. When we get a vaccine, it helps our bodies to make more antibodies so that we don't get sick or die from the germs we are exposed to.”

Kevin Ban, MD

Parents should focus on the benefits of the vaccine for their children, how it will help protect them, their families and those around them, and the evidence behind that.

— Kevin Ban, MD

And remember, your pediatrician is there to help if you need help explaining how the vaccine works, or if you’re worried about safety. “I explain how studies are conducted and how many thousands of children have been studied after receiving the vaccine,” says Danelle Fisher, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

Fisher continues, “If parents are worried about the vaccine affecting fertility, I reassure them that this vaccine does not alter DNA and cannot cause fertility problems."

As a pediatrician, Dr. Fisher says she’s confident in the COVID-19 vaccine. “We have been seeing great results with the adult population and the studies in children are also showing impressive results,” she says. 

Putting Their Minds at Ease

It’s completely natural for your child to feel nervous about getting their shot. “With access to an overwhelming amount of information — from social media to television to those closest to them — it’s likely they’re hearing conflicting information about the vaccine and it may raise concerns,” says Dr. Ban. 

Try to make listening to what their children have to say your primary focus, and answer questions and address concerns in a respectful manner, as you would with anyone else. "There are many reasons for hesitancy and questions around the vaccine, and it’s important to understand what those are first so that you can respond appropriately and address any fear or concerns," Dr. Ban says.

The process will be easier if you validate your kids' feelings about getting their shot. For instance, if they're scared getting that it might hurt them, let them know that it's okay to have those fears, and reassure them that you'll be with them the entire time. "I've found that the less nervous that I am when discussing potentially uncomfortable topics with my kids, the less likely they are to be nervous. Kids really do pick up on our non-verbal cues," Dr. Madden explains.   

Dr Fisher agrees that kids take emotional cues from their parents, so if you show apprehension or fear about the COVID-19 vaccine, there's a chance your kids will model that. At the same time, it's important to be honest about the potential side effects of the vaccine. "Tell your child that they may have mild pain in their upper arm after the vaccine and that it will go away within one day," Dr. Fisher says.

What This Means for You


Chances are your child has heard a lot about the COVID-19 vaccine already, and is going to have questions. Reassure them about vaccine safety, share your experience getting the shot, and explain why everyone needs to get one.

Also, remember that you aren't expected to have all the answers and there is still much to learn about the covid vaccine for kids.

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  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Emergency Use in Adolescents in Another Important Action in Fight Against Pandemic. May 10, 2021.