COVID-19 vaccine and children: Information for parents and caregivers

Young people aged 12 to 15 became eligible for Pfizer vaccination in August 2021. Learn about the effects COVID-19 could have on unvaccinated young people, the effectiveness and safety of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, providing consent for vaccination and what to expect during the appointment.

Last updated: 1 December 2021

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Effects of COVID-19 on unvaccinated young people

COVID-19 generally has milder effects in children than adults and is rarely severe or fatal. Adolescents who have COVID-19 will commonly have no symptoms or only mild symptoms, similar to a cold.

However, some young people who have not been vaccinated can develop severe lung infections, become very sick and require hospitalisation. Children can also have complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome that may require intensive care, or long-lasting symptoms that affect their health and wellbeing. The virus can cause death in children although this is rarer than for adults.

Like adults, children can transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 to others if they’re infected, even when they have no symptoms.

Effects of Delta

The Delta variant does not appear to cause more severe disease among children and adolescents compared to previous variants. However, the total number of children and adolescents who develop severe disease is likely to increase with the Delta variant, as Delta is more transmissible.

Long COVID in young people

The term ‘long COVID’ is commonly used to describe signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute COVID-19 (4 weeks from the initial infection).

Data describing long COVID in children and adolescents are scarce but persistent symptoms reported following COVID-19 among children and adolescents include fatigue, headache, anosmia (loss of smell) and sore throat.


Vaccine effectiveness in young people

The Pfizer vaccine is proven to be highly effective in young people after two doses are administered. That means if they do develop COVID-19, they’re far less likely to fall seriously ill and less likely to transmit the virus to others – including whānau and friends who may be more at risk from COVID-19.

Across all age groups, studies have shown that about 95% of people who received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine were protected against getting COVID-19 symptoms. However, Pfizer has reported 100% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 infection in the 12- to 15-year-old age group – with a higher antibody response than was seen in the 16- to 25-year-old age group.


Vaccine safety in young people

Medsafe is responsible for approving the use of all medicines and vaccines in New Zealand. The Pfizer vaccine was provisionally approved for New Zealanders aged 16 and over in February 2021 and young people aged 12 to 15 in June 2021.

Medsafe only approves a vaccine in Aotearoa once they are satisfied it has met strict standards for safety, efficacy and quality.

Millions of people aged 12 to 15 have now been vaccinated around the world, and no additional safety concerns have been raised.

The Ministry of Health also receives regular advice from science experts in the COVID-19 Vaccine Technical Advisory Group to recommend the use of vaccines in different age groups.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca is not approved in New Zealand for people under 18. Those under 18 will be given Pfizer.


Research and data on vaccinating young people

The safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds was first evaluated through a large clinical trial where participants were randomised to either receive two doses of the vaccine, 21 days apart, or a placebo.

There were 1,131 12- to 15-year-olds who received the vaccine in the clinical trial, and 1,129 who received a placebo.

More information about the clinical trial

Since the vaccine has been approved for 12- to 15-year-olds, millions of people in this age group have been vaccinated around the world.

Real-world data showing that the vaccine is safe and effective in younger populations is also emerging:

  1. Effectiveness of Pfizer vaccine against Delta variant in adolescents
  2. Effectiveness of Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 hospitalisation among 12- to 18-year-olds
  3. COVID-19 vaccine safety in 12- to 17-year-olds
  4. Pfizer results from the trial of COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11

Side effects of vaccination

Side effects of vaccination in young people are similar to those seen in adults. These side effects are generally mild and should only last 1 or 2 days.

The most common side effects are:

  • a sore arm from your injection – you can put a cold cloth or ice pack on it to feel better
  • a headache
  • feeling tired
  • feeling feverish or sweaty
  • nausea
  • aching muscles.

After vaccination they will need to stay for at least 15 minutes after so that a health professional can monitor for any immediate adverse reactions.

If they develop difficulty breathing, a racing heart, chest pain or feel faint (straight away or in the days after the vaccine), seek medical attention.

If they feel unwell, get them to rest and drink plenty of fluids. They should avoid vigorous exercise, like running around or swimming. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be taken (following instructions on packaging, or as given by your doctor or pharmacist) after vaccination to help to relieve fever or pain.

Myocarditis

One side effect that has been very rarely associated with the Pfizer vaccine, particularly in young men after the second dose, is inflammation of the heart muscle or the tissue surrounding the heart (known as myocarditis and/or pericarditis).

This is usually mild and improves with rest and anti-inflammatory medicines, but most cases need to be seen in hospital. Myocarditis can be serious if left untreated.

You should seek medical attention if they develop chest pain, shortness of breath, feel faint or have a racing heart at any point in the days after the vaccine.

Allergies

As with all medicines, there is a risk of an allergic response after this vaccine. This is why everyone is asked to wait for at least 15 minutes.

Pfizer is safe for people with food allergies. Unlike some other vaccines, there is no food, gelatin or latex in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and it is not grown in eggs.

The only reason that someone may not be able to have this vaccine due to allergy is if they have had a severe allergic response (anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of the Pfizer vaccine or an ingredient in the vaccine.

If someone has a history of an immediate allergic reaction to other products, including food, medicines or other vaccines, they can still have this vaccine but are asked to stay a little longer (at least 30 minutes) for monitoring. Vaccinators are trained to recognise these symptoms and have the appropriate equipment to treat people on site.

The Pfizer vaccine does not contain:

  • animal products
  • antibiotics
  • blood products
  • DNA
  • egg proteins
  • fetal material
  • gluten
  • microchips
  • pork products
  • preservatives
  • soy
  • latex (the vial stopper is made with synthetic rubber – bromobutyl).

Ingredients in the Pfizer vaccine


Tips before vaccination

Prior to their vaccination appointment:

  1. provide encouragement and keep them relaxed
  2. make sure they have had something to eat and drink
  3. check they’re wearing clothes that make it easy to see and access their upper arm.

If they’re a little nervous, they’re welcome to take something to the appointment that will distract them, like a phone or some music.

Watch: Cyrus' story about getting his vaccine

I was worried my arm would be sore and that I would get sick from the jab.

My mind was changed after I met the nice people at the vaccination centre.

Larisa was the person who talked to me. She called me by my name which made me feel so much better and not so scared.

You are allowed to be worried,but don't let it stop you.

I found out more about the vaccine by going on the Ministry of Health website.

I can't run away from COVID-19, but being vaccinated means COVID-19 will run away from me.

Tips to prepare for your COVID-19 vaccine appointment – IMAC

Getting your COVID-19 vaccine: What if I don’t like needles? – IMAC


Giving consent

While children aged 12 and above have the right to give their own consent, we recommend young people discuss vaccination with their parents, whānau or a trusted support person.

A health professional will also discuss the vaccine with them before they get vaccinated and answer any questions they have. If they have a good understanding, they can say yes or no to getting the vaccine. If they’d prefer, a parent or caregiver can provide consent instead.

COVID-19 vaccine informed consent for young people aged 12-15 years policy statement (PDF, 176 KB)

If you need assistance during vaccination appointments

If you book a vaccination through Book My Vaccine, you can request assistance during your appointment.

Assistance can include:

  • an NZSL interpreter
  • support to make decisions
  • assistance to move around
  • a longer appointment time
  • a quiet or low-sensory environment
  • more space to move around.

If you have questions about accessibility or have specific or complex needs, please call the COVID Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26.

At this stage, a school-based COVID-19 vaccination programme is not planned for 2021.

See a list of Super Accessible sites near you

You can also accompany a child to a walk-in appointment


If they’re under 12

Pfizer has trialled their COVID-19 vaccine in children aged 5 to 11 years and the vaccine is being used overseas to protect this age group.

We are already planning for a rollout of the Pfizer vaccine to tamariki aged 5 and over, so we will be ready if it is approved by Medsafe and Cabinet decides to use it. Medsafe is following the same robust review process that it does for all other vaccines and medicines that it approves for use in New Zealand.

Although tamariki have a lower risk of direct health impacts from COVID-19 than older age groups, it can still have serious consequences, particularly for children with compromised immune systems or significant respiratory conditions. A vaccine for tamariki can help keep them and their communities safe.

The child doses of the Pfizer vaccine are smaller than the ones used for people over age 12 – a child dose is one third of the adult dose.

We are working with iwi, DHBs, local providers, communities and the Ministry of Education to roll out the Pfizer vaccine to children in a whānau-based model. Some clinics may also offer other childhood immunisations.

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