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How to protect children too young for the vaccine

This page is reviewed regularly. Last updated on January 12, 2022.

There are more childhood cases of COVID-19 than at any other time during the pandemic.1 The good news is children have mostly had more mild symptoms than adults, but they can still develop serious illness.2 While many children may have mild symptoms, they can spread the virus as easily as adults do.

All kids 5 years and older are eligible to get the vaccine, but some are still too young. The best protection for an unvaccinated child is a vaccinated family. If adults and eligible children are vaccinated, it decreases the chance that the unvaccinated child will catch the virus.

Having more vaccinated people helps schools stay safe and open for all children. While masks help stop the spread of the virus, it can be hard to make sure children wear them all the time. A community of vaccinated school staff and family members can lower the chances of an outbreak.3

Returning to School

Washing hands often and wearing masks are the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among children. Even if your child’s school does not require masks, every unvaccinated child should wear one outside the home (especially in communities with substantial or high transmission).

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all students older than 2 years and all school staff members or visitors wear a mask at school.4 For more protection against the Omicron and Delta variant, have everyone in your family (even those who are vaccinated) wear a mask at school or any other public place.

Remind your child to wash their hands, wear their masks, and try not to touch their eyes with unwashed hands. If your child cannot wear a mask safely, see if there are other measures your school can take to keep them safe.

Ask your school administrator or childcare provider if they have a policy on physical distancing and cohorting. A cohort is a small group that stays together to lower the number of people kids meet each day. Your program may also try to do activities outside, keep 6 feet of distance between students when possible, and give a few different pick-up and drop-off times to parents.

Playdates and Babysitters

Have fewer people come in contact with your children when possible. Hold playdates outside. If you need to have a babysitter, try to use the same one each time. Ask all indoor visitors to wear masks and wash their hands.

Talk to your children before they see their friends and remind them to keep physical distance. Even when outdoors, it is a good idea to wear masks when unvaccinated children are spending time together.

Vaccinating Kids

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can be given to children as young as 12 and is fully FDA approved for all people aged 16 and older.5 There are two doses given about 21 days apart. The second dose can be given up to 6 weeks after the first.

The CDC is now recommending vaccinating children between the ages 5 to 11 years with the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 Vaccine. There are 2 doses given about 21 days apart.6

The vaccine is equally as safe for children ages 5-17 as it is for adults. Like adults, children may have some side effects when they get their shots.

Normal side effects include:

  • Pain, redness or swelling where the shot was given
  • Headaches or body aches
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Fatigue

These are the same side effects that adults might experience. All are temporary, and usually last 1-3 days. Some people have no side effects at all.

Clinical trials are ongoing to study the COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than 5 years of age. Until then, families and communities have to work together to protect young kids.


  1. AAP: Children and COVID-19: State Level Data Report
  2. CDC: Know What to Expect at Your Child’s K- 12 School or Early Care and Education Program
  3. CDC: Guidance for Children and Teens
  4. AAP: COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools
  5. FDA Approves First COVID-19 Vaccine
  6. CDC Recommends Pediatric COVID-19 Vaccine for Children 5 to 11 Years

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.