COVID-19 vaccine information for youth ages 12 to 17

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Looking for information specific to children ages 6 mos to 4 yrs? Visit our COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 mos to 4 yrs page

Looking for information specific to children ages 5 to 11?  Visit our COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 page.

Looking for general information on COVID-19 vaccines? Visit our COVID-19 vaccines page

Key points: 

  • COVID-19 vaccines provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19. 
  • COVID-19 vaccines are safe. Side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are usually mild. Serious side effects are very rare.
  • Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are approved for youth 12 years of age and older.
  • It is much safer to get vaccinated than to get COVID-19.

Why should youth get vaccinated? 

Vaccination helps keep youth safe and is the best way to protect them from severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19. 
While most youth who get COVID-19 have mild illness, some can get very sick. The chance of getting very sick is higher for youth who are not fully vaccinated or have certain medical conditions. 
Youth who get COVID-19:
  • May feel sick for weeks or months after the initial illness. This is called Post-COVID-19 condition or "long COVID". 
  • Can get a severe lung infection and heart issues like myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).
  • Are at risk for developing a serious but rare condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is caused by an exaggerated immune response, leading to severe widespread inflammation, and can happen several weeks after infection.
Vaccinating youth can also help protect others, including family members and those most at risk. Vaccination can also make it less likely that youth will miss out on important activities, like school, sports, and social events.


Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for youth? 

The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines are safe for youth. These vaccines were studied in youth in clinical trials and were shown to be safe and effective. Since approval, millions of doses of vaccine have been safely given to youth worldwide. Ongoing vaccine safety monitoring continues to show that the vaccines are safe and that they are effective at preventing severe illness for this age group.

What are the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines? 

Side effects are normal and are the result of the immune system responding to the vaccine. Some people have no side effects following COVID-19 vaccination, while others may have some type of side effect. Side effects are most often mild and last 1-3 days. Serious side effects are extremely rare.  
Common vaccine side effects may include:
  • Pain, redness, swelling  and itchiness where the vaccine was given.
  • More general symptoms, such as tiredness, headache, fever, chills, muscle or joint soreness, swollen lymph nodes under the armpit, nausea and vomiting. 

In very rare cases, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and pericarditis (inflammation of heart's outer lining) can occur after getting a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. Most people recover quickly. In Canada, this has occurred at a rate of about 1.7 cases per 100,000 doses of Moderna vaccine and 1.1 cases per 100,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for older children and adults. Cases are seen more often after the second dose and in males 12-29 years of age. The rate of cases in males 18-29 years of age after the second dose are about 5 times higher with the Moderna vaccine compared to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The risk of heart complications, including myocarditis, is much greater after COVID-19 infection than after vaccination.

Learn more about myocarditis and weighing the risks in this article from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

A severe allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis) can happen after any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, but this is rare and happens in about one in a million people. Should this reaction occur, health care providers are prepared to treat it.
There is a very strict process to test and approve vaccines in Canada. Health Canada only approves a vaccine if the data from clinical trials show the vaccine is safe and effective and that the vaccine's benefits outweigh any risks. After a vaccine is approved for use, its safety is continuously monitored. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccine safety and side effects from Health Canada


Learn more about COVID-19 vaccine safety for youth in the handout below from the BCCDC.


How many vaccine doses do youth need? 

  • Most youth aged 12 to 17 need two doses of an mRNA vaccine for their primary (initial) series. A three-dose primary series is recommended for youth who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.  Learn who is eligible to receive a third dose.
  • A booster dose is recommended for all youth. Most youth aged 12 to 17 will be offered the Pfizer bivalent mRNA vaccine as a booster. However, the Moderna bivalent vaccine is the preferred booster product for those who are moderately to severely immunosuppressed. The Moderna bivalent vaccine may induce a greater immune response compared to the Pfizer bivalent vaccine. 
  • People 12 years of age and older who received a monovalent COVID-19 mRNA vaccine booster dose during the fall 2022 booster dose program will receive an invite to get a bivalent COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at least 6 months after their previous booster.
  • It is extra important to get a booster dose if you have a weakened immune system because of a medical condition or treatment. 
  • Learn more about booster doses

Have a positive vaccination experience

Vaccines can cause some pain, stress, and anxiety for people of all ages.  Fortunately, there are many strategies that can be used before and during the vaccination appointment that can help make the vaccination experience better. 

Mature minor consent

Parents or guardians and their children are encouraged to review and discuss vaccines and make a decision about vaccination together.
Children under the age of 19 who are able to understand the benefits and possible reactions for the vaccine, and the risk of not getting vaccinated, can legally consent to or refuse vaccinations on their own.This is called "mature minor consent".
Learn more about mature minor consent in the handout below from the BCCDC.

Learn more:

Date last reviewed: 
Thursday, Dec 15, 2022