How Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Affect My Child’s Regular Shot Schedule?

little girl getting a covid vaccine

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Just about everyone is now eligible to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as both the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines have been approved for adults and children ages 6 months and older.

In addition, as of December 2022, the FDA has authorized updated bivalent boosters from Pfizer and Moderna for everyone ages 6 months and older. These boosters provide protection against both the Omicron variant and the original strain of the virus.

Key Takeaways

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines indicate it's safe for kids to get the COVID-19 shot along with their routine childhood vaccinations.
  • Parents who hesitate to give several shots at once still have options, like staggering vaccines or scheduling routine childhood vaccinations between COVID-19 shots.
  • The pandemic has caused an overall decline in life-saving vaccinations among all kids from birth to age 18.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the emergency use of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines in kids ages 6 months and older. That means most kids in the U.S. are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As a parent, you may be wondering how this new shot will fit into your child’s routine vaccination schedule

From birth until the age of 18, the majority of kids in the U.S. follow a standard vaccination schedule that protects against a host of debilitating and potentially deadly diseases, including polio, meningitis, and measles.

Adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the mix is a relatively simple thing, but there’s a separate issue to consider: the pandemic has brought about a sharp decline in rates of all childhood vaccines among kids under 18, which puts kids' health in jeopardy. These vaccines have saved millions of lives, which is why it's so important for children to get these shots.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from May 2019 to May 2020, there was a 20% decrease in the number of vaccinations given to kids (outside of the flu shot) as social distancing measures kept many families out of the doctor's office for routine medical care. 

In January 2023, the CDC released a report about the number of kindergarteners vaccinated according to their state's guidelines. It showed the number of vaccinated kindergarteners entering school continues to decline. During the 2021-22 school year, the number of covered kindergarteners declined to approximately 93% for state-required vaccinations. That's down 1% from the 2020-21 school year, and 2% from the year before. The percentages vary from state to state. Students vaccinated against MMR is 98% in New York but only 78% in Alaska. When it comes to the polio vaccine, almost 98% are vaccinated in Louisiana and Nebraska, but Alaska is at 77%.

Officials attribute the decline to COVID-related disruptions in the vaccine schedule. The CDC is concerned declining vaccination numbers could eventually impact the protection of students from these diseases.

Global Vaccination Decline

On July 25, 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF released data showing the staggering slide in childhood vaccinations around the globe. According to their data, 25 million children missed one or more doses of the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) through routine immunizations in 2021. That's two million more than in 2020 and six million more than in 2019. WHO and UNICEF are calling it "the largest sustained decline in childhood vaccinations in approximately 30 years."

The DTP shot is considered an indicator of immunization within and across countries. The number of children receiving the first dose of the measles vaccine dropped to 81% in 2021, the lowest level since 2008. WHO and UNICEF attribute the decline not only due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also to the number of children living in areas where there is conflict or lack of access. The agencies are working with partners to deliver a global strategy to increase immunization and prevent diseases.

Families Urged to Catch Up on Childhood Vaccines As Soon As Feasible

The COVID-19 vaccine is now widely available and pediatricians are urging parents to make those well-check appointments and get their kids back on track with other vaccinations as well. 

Initially, the CDC recommendation stated no other vaccines should take place within two weeks of receiving the COVID-19 shot, which would make prioritizing childhood vaccines a good idea ahead of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. That guidance has been changed, with the CDC now saying it's safe for kids to get a COVID-19 shot alongside any other vaccines they happen to be due for, including the influenza vaccine.

Rick Martinello, MD, the medical director of infection prevention at Yale New Haven Health, says the original guidance was in place more to avoid confusion about which vaccine may have caused side effects, rather than a safety hazard.

“This has been recommended simply to ensure that any side effects from vaccination did not overlap and cause confusion. There is a firm recommendation to space out live virus vaccines (like FluMist) by a minimum of 4 weeks, but none of the COVID-19 vaccines used in the US are live virus vaccines,” says Martinello.

But what should you do if you’re still feeling hesitant to schedule your child’s COVID-19 vaccines? Below, we’ve addressed some of the more common questions parents have about adding the COVID-19 vaccine to their child’s immunization schedule. 

Should the COVID-19 Vaccine Take Priority Over Regular Vaccinations?

Jaydeep Tripathy, MD, a board-certified primary care physician with Doctor Spring, says, “In my opinion, yes, the COVID-19 vaccine should be prioritized once available.” Dr. Martinello agrees, citing still-high levels of COVID-19 in many communities, and increasing numbers of younger children becoming ill with the virus. 

Jaydeep Tripathy, MD

In my opinion, yes, the COVID-19 vaccine should be prioritized.

— Jaydeep Tripathy, MD

Both experts stress that other vaccines are still critically important. “However, that doesn’t mean that parents should forget about the other scheduled vaccinations,” Dr. Tripathy says. 

How Should the COVID-19 Vaccine Be Spaced If Parents Don’t Want to Combine It With Other Childhood Vaccinations?

It’s possible to get your child back up to date and protected from both COVID-19 and the other diseases covered by routine childhood vaccinations, even if you don’t feel comfortable combining these vaccines. 

Dr. Tripathy suggests the following strategy that allows you to effectively stagger the vaccines: “Since there’s about a one-month window between doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, parents can schedule their child’s well visit with vaccines on the 14th day after the child has received the first dose of the COVID-19 shot, and therefore will still have seven to 14 days (depending on the vaccine’s manufacturer; Pfizer shots are given 21 days apart, while Moderna shots are given 28 days apart) before the second dose,” he says.

That’s a great strategy if your child’s well visit happens to be coming up right as you’re attempting to schedule a COVID-19 shot for them. “Otherwise, parents can just schedule the other vaccinations their child is due for two weeks after getting both COVID-19 shots,” says Dr. Tripathy. 

Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Become Part of the Routine Childhood Vaccination Schedule? 

Perhaps the most enduring question out there right now is whether we’ll all have to roll up our sleeves again this time next year, and that includes our kids. Will the COVID-19 vaccine become a yearly thing, just like the flu shot has? “I suspect it will,” says Dr. Martinello, “but we’ll need to wait and see how long immunity persists from our first vaccinations.” 

Rick Martinello, MD

The vaccination schedule is important because it guides physicians and families to get specific vaccines before a child is at the greatest risk for the preventable diseases the vaccines protect against and at the earliest time when the child will be able to develop a lasting, effective immune response to that vaccination.

— Rick Martinello, MD

Just like anything related to this novel virus, it’ll be a wait-and-see approach for scientists to determine the next steps for the COVID-19 vaccines. But chances are, you’ll have to fit one into your child’s vaccination schedule each year, just like you do with the flu shot. 

Luckily, with these vaccines (for everyone ages 6 months and older) and booster shots (for ages 5 and up) now widely available at chain drug stores across the country, getting a yearly COVID-19 shot for your family may not even require a separate trip to the doctor’s office.

Why Is the Timing of Vaccinations So Important?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s okay to put off routine childhood vaccinations because you don’t want your kids to have to deal with so many shots. There’s a reason shots are spaced the way they are, and it’s crucial to keep your kids on schedule as much as possible.

Of course, all families suffered a disruption in their regular routines because of the pandemic, but now’s the best time to start getting caught up again, and that includes scheduling those yearly well visits for your kids. 

“The vaccination schedule is important because it guides physicians and families to get specific vaccines before a child is at the greatest risk for the preventable diseases the vaccines protect against and at the earliest time when the child will be able to develop a lasting, effective immune response to that vaccination,” Martinello says. 

How Important Is It for College Kids to Get COVID-19 Vaccines? 

College-aged kids likely desire a return to normalcy quicker than just about any demographic out there. But kids who remain unvaccinated on college campuses are highly vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Incoming college students should understand that face-to-face classes carry risks for infection since they’ll gather in a small, enclosed room. When it comes to lodging, living with people outside of your household can carry risks for transmission. And finally, college kids are typically more social, so vaccination can really help campus life be more normal again,” says Tripathy.

What This Means for You

Since the COVID-19 vaccine is readily available for those aged 6 months old and up, it is important for them to get vaccinated. But that doesn't mean you should put off their routine childhood vaccinations. Make sure to get caught up on any shots missed due to the pandemic's social distancing and stay-at-home measures.

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.

12 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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By Christin Perry
Christin Perry is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has been published in The Bump, The Knot, Scary Mommy, LittleThings, Parents, Qeepsake, and more. She has experience writing email marketing campaigns, website copy, and SEO-optimized content. Christin is also a mom of three.