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

Father and daughter sitting at table in discussion

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Key Takeaways

  • The rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccines began in the U.S. in December, 2020.
  • When they learn about these vaccines, kids may naturally think the pandemic is almost over.
  • We give answers to some of your kids' tough questions about the new vaccines.

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. has sparked hope for many. With that hope, however, comes the need for parents to talk to their kids about the current state of the pandemic and, if need be, offer realistic expectations about a return to normalcy.

The pandemic has been a scary and often confusing time. Despite the potential risks, most schools maintained some form of in-person learning, if only part-time. Many of kids' favorite activities, like sports and performing arts, were canceled. Officials urged folks to stay home for the holidays and avoid large groups.

Guidance has often been tough to track, even for adults. For kids, these conflicting events can be even more difficult to process. So how can we as parents explain all of this to our kids, who may be confused as to why they should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing, even after vaccines are available?

First, make no mistake: kids know a thing or two about shots. After all, most of us have been stressing the importance of routine vaccinations their whole lives. We’ve explained how shots can prevent people from contracting serious but preventable diseases.

We’ve talked about how some shots are only required once or twice, while others are necessary every year. So when kids hear this news about a COVID vaccine, there’s a good chance they’ll assume things are back to "normal" and the pandemic has come to an end.

And while things have certainly improved with the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, life still remains quite different from what it was before the pandemic, says Ashley Wood, RN, BSN, contributor at Demystifying Your Health. “To get the vaccine distributed is going to be an undertaking like we’ve never seen before,” says Wood.

“When talking to your kids about the COVID vaccine, it’s essential to go over why following safety protocols, like social distancing and mask-wearing, are still really important if we truly want to move past this pandemic," Wood says.

Below are some of the things kids may wonder when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, along with some strategies that could help parents talk to their kids about where things stand.

Is It Safe?

Without a doubt, COVID-19 vaccines have been pushed out faster than any others in history. And while kids may not fully understand that, they’ve probably heard plenty of talk about it. “It’s important to share that while the development process has been quick, it has been done safely,” says Wood. “All possible measures have been taken to ensure that no harm will come to those who take it.”

Safety trials have still taken place, just on an accelerated timeline. What’s more, vaccines to treat similar strains of coronavirus have been in the works for many years, so even the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t an entirely new process.

Can I Get the Vaccine?

As of May 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccinations for all children 12 and older. Until more trials and more data are available regarding the effects and efficacy of the vaccine on young children, kids under 12 will not be eligible to take a vaccine.

Younger children might feel worried or impatient while they wait for the chance to be vaccinated. This is a good opportunity to explain a bit about the process of developing safe and effective vaccines to reduce the risk of severe illness. Tell your child that it takes time to take the proper steps to ensure every vaccine is safe for people of all ages.

Until a vaccine is available for younger children, teach your child how they can stay safe by wearing a mask in public, practicing good hand-washing habits, and letting a parent know if they are not feeling well.

Ashley Wood, RN, BSN

When talking to your kids about the COVID vaccine, it’s essential to go over why following safety protocols, like social distancing and mask-wearing, are still really important if we truly want to move past this pandemic

— Ashley Wood, RN, BSN

Will This End the Pandemic? 

Another loaded question, and a difficult one to answer. “We have to help our kids avoid getting their hopes up too much about the vaccine,” Wood says. “Even when a fully functional vaccine is successfully distributed to everyone who wants it, there will still be many people who will avoid it, and of course there may still be some margin of error,” she explains.

When talking to your kids about whether or not the COVID vaccines will end the pandemic, reassure them that it’s good news to be hopeful about, but also be realistic about the results as well.

You can even compare the situation to a time in the past when your kids had to wait for something they wanted, be it a new video game or the start of a family trip. Nobody likes to wait, but it's worth it for the reward at the end.

Will There Be Any Side Effects? 

There’s no need for kids to fear this. After all, any vaccine can have mild side effects, including ones your child has already received. While there have been reports of side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, most have been mild. But only time will tell whether kids face different or more severe side effects. It’s best to reassure your kids that any side effects likely won’t be much of an issue, especially if they’re otherwise healthy.

What This Means For You

When talking to your kids about these COVID-19 vaccines, it's important to maintain a sense of hopeful patience. It's critical that kids understand these don't mean an immediate end to the pandemic, but that when paired with health measures like mask wearing, social distancing, and proper hand hygiene, they could help us get the spread of the virus under control.

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.

4 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ensuring the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States.

  2. van Doremalen N, Haddock E, Feldmann F, et al. A single dose of ChAdOx1 MERS provides broad protective immunity against a variety of MERS-CoV strainsSci Adv. 2020;(6)24:eaba8399. doi:10.1101/2020.04.13.036293

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens.

  4. Wadman M. Public needs to prep for vaccine side effectsScience. 2020;370(6520):1022. doi:10.1126/science.370.6520.1022

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.