COVID-19 vaccines FAQ for youth aged 12 to 17

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Getting your vaccine

What vaccines do youth get?

Health Canada has approved the following mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for youth aged 12 and older:
  • Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty™) COVID-19 vaccine
  • Moderna (Spikevax™) COVID-19 vaccine
Is the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for youth?

COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory for youth. COVID-19 vaccination is currently recommended for youth 12 and up. 

People 12 years of age and older in BC can register to get the COVID-19 vaccine. To register, go to the How to get vaccinated webpage.

Does a youth who has had a COVID-19 infection still need the vaccine?

Yes. Youth who have had a COVID-19 infection should get vaccinated as soon as they have recovered and completed their self-isolation period. This includes youth with ‘long COVID’, the condition which causes people to experience symptoms well after their infection goes away.

Not everyone develops a strong immune response after a COVID-19 infection, and the vaccine is the best way to ensure immunity. Although the body naturally generates antibodies when you get COVID-19, we don’t know how long immunity lasts or how many antibodies your body produces. This is why some people get COVID-19 more than once and why it’s recommended that children who have had a COVID-19 infection still get vaccinated. 
 
How can I help support a youth who is afraid of needles? 

Vaccines can cause some pain, stress, and anxiety for children and youth of all ages. Go to our reducing pain, stress, and anxiety with vaccinations section for tips on how to have a more positive vaccination experience. 

You can also contact your local health unit and ask to speak with a public health nurse about supports available in your area. 
 


Risks of COVID-19 infection and benefits of vaccination 

What are the risks of COVID-19 infection in youth?
 
COVID-19 tends to cause milder illness in children and youth compared to adults. However, it can make youth very sick, can cause them to be hospitalized, and, in rare cases, can cause death. Youth with certain underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
 
Unfortunately, with new variants such as the Delta variant, we are seeing more children and youth getting sick with COVID-19. According to the BCCDC Data Summary, as of October 14, 2021, there have been a total of 24,554 cases and 94 hospitalizations in the 5- to 17-year-old age group in BC. 
 
COVID-19 can cause myocarditis (inflammation of the heart). It can also cause multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a serious condition where different body parts become inflamed.
 
We do not know the long-term side effects of COVID-19 infection at this point. We are still learning about 'long COVID', which causes people to experience symptoms well after the infection goes away. While we do not yet know how often 'long COVID' occurs in youth, it’s clear that some young people suffer similar long-term effects. 
 
What are the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in youth? 

Vaccinating youth is the best way to protect them from getting sick with COVID-19. COVID-19 tends to cause milder illness in youth compared to adults. However, it can make youth very sick, can cause them to be hospitalized, and, in rare cases, can cause death. 

Vaccinating youth also helps: 
  • Protect family members, including siblings who are too young to get vaccinated and family members who may be at increased risk of getting very sick if infected.
     
  • Reduce the spread of the virus in the community. This helps protect people who are most at risk of getting really sick from COVID-19, including the elderly and people who are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system, which means their body can’t fight off diseases like COVID-19 as well as people with a fully functioning immune system).
     
  • Reduce the risk of new variants of concern emerging. We don’t know if there will eventually be a variant of concern that causes more serious illness in children and youth.
     
  • Give youth an added layer of protection in school or while participating in sports, playdates, and other group activities..


Safety

Are mRNA COVID-19 vaccines safe for youth? 
The Pfizer-BioNTech (ComirnatyTM) and Moderna (SpikevaxTM) COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are currently approved for youth 12 years  and older. These vaccines were tested in youth through clinical trials. Health Canada reviewed the data from the clinical trials and determined the Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty)  and Moderna (Spikevax) mRNA vaccines are safe for youth 12 and older. Health Canada has an extensive review and approval process for vaccines. This ensures the safety and quality of vaccines.
 
Since approval, hundreds of millions of mRNA vaccines have been given to people 12 years of age and older worldwide. Over two million youth in Canada and over 250 thousand youth in BC aged 12 to 17 have already received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. For more information on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for children and youth, read the Vaccine Safety for Youth handout from the BCCDC
 
What are the side effects of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in youth? 

Side effects are part of the body's natural response to a vaccine. Some people have no side effects, while others may have some type of reaction. Reactions are most often mild and go away by themselves within hours or days. 

  • The most common side effects reported by youth are pain where the vaccine was given, fatigue, headache, chills, and muscle aches. 
     
  • Other common side effects of COVID-19 vaccines may include redness, soreness, swelling where the vaccine was given, joint pain, and mild fever.
     
  • 99.9% of people who received the mRNA vaccines did not report any serious side effects. 
     
  • In very rare cases, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) can occur. Most people recover quickly. The risk of heart complications, including myocarditis, is much greater after COVID-19 infection than after vaccination. 
     
  • A severe allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis) can happen after any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines, but this is rare and happens in about 1 in a million people. Should this reaction occur, healthcare providers are prepared to treat it.  
Can mRNA vaccines cause inflammation of the heart?  

In rare cases, people have experienced myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart) after getting an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. These events have been reported in BC at a rate of about 1.5 per 100 thousand doses of mRNA vaccines given. They have occurred more often in young adults and adolescent males, and after the second dose. The available short-term follow-up data shows that the majority of affected people, even if hospitalized, experience relatively mild illness, respond well to conservative treatment, and recover quickly. It's important to note that the risk of heart complications, including myocarditis, is much greater following COVID-19 infection than following vaccination.

Are there long-term side effects of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in youth? 

The medical and scientific community is confident in the long-term safety of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for several reasons:
 
  • The history of vaccines shows that delayed effects after vaccination can happen. But when they do, these effects tend to happen within six weeks of receiving a vaccine. This is why regulators in Canada and many other countries require at least eight weeks of safety data before approving a vaccine. The vaccines have now been in use for months, with over 2.7 billion doses given worldwide.
     
  • This is not new vaccine technology. The mRNA vaccines have been in development for many years and have been studied before for flu, Zika, rabies, and cytomegalovirus (CMV). In addition, cancer research has used mRNA to trigger the immune system to target specific cancer cells. Years of studying mRNA vaccines has shown no long-term side effects.
     
  • Canada’s vaccine safety system has proven time and again that the data necessary to get through the approval process is sufficient to prove safety, even for the long term. The end data and safety tests for the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines met the same standards as other vaccines that have been approved in Canada. 
When considering long-term risks, a COVID-19 infection is a much more serious concern. 
 
Can mRNA COVID-19 vaccines alter a person’s DNA? 
 
  • Location – mRNA is active in the cytoplasm of a cell, whereas DNA is protected in the cell’s nucleus. The mRNA CANNOT enter the nucleus, so the two nucleic acids are never in the same place in the cell.
     
  • Process – mRNA is not DNA. So, if a person’s DNA were going to be altered, the RNA would have to be made into DNA. This would require a special enzyme that exists only in some viruses. Coronaviruses are not one of them, as they have only single-stranded RNA. This means that when they enter into a cell’s cytoplasm, they don’t need to be translated. Proteins (like the spike protein) can be made directly from the RNA.
     
  • Stability — mRNA is not very stable. Its half-life in human cells is estimated in hours. For purposes of mRNA-based therapies, modifications have been developed to keep the molecule in cells long enough to allow for the therapy to be successful. But even with this, the mRNA will not lead to protein production for more than 10-14 days.


Reproductive health 

Can COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?

COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility, and there is no scientific reason to believe that they will cause infertility. Recent studies have shown that they do not impact fertility. In response to the online rumours suggesting that COVID-19 vaccination may affect future fertility, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada released a statement.
 
Can COVID-19 vaccines affect menstruation? 
The Canadian Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists states the following in regards to COVID-19 vaccination and the menstrual cycle:
 
“The menstrual cycle is a complicated process impacted by multiple factors including sleep, stress, infection, diet, and exercise. In fact, getting COVID-19 itself can impact the menstrual cycle, with more than 35% of women and persons who get COVID-19 noting changes in their menstrual cycle after infection.
 
While there are many theories around how changes in menstrual cycles may occur (e.g., inflammation), none have been proven. 
 
In the UK over 41 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given with only 21 680 (0.0005%) of women per dose reporting changes in the menstrual cycles.
 
Other vaccines have not impacted the menstrual cycle. 
 
While studies to determine if the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on the menstrual cycle are ongoing, and if it does impact the menstrual cycle we would expect it to be limited to 1-2one or two cycles. What we do know is that having a severe illness such as COVID-19 does impact the menstrual cycle and can impact the menstrual cycle for much longer.”
 


Informed consent 

Do youth need a signed consent form to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
 
A COVID-19 consent form is not required. However, there are consent forms that the BCCDC has created that the clinic may choose to use. You can see them below:
Can youth provide their own consent for the COVID-19 vaccine?
 
In general, parental consent for health care in BC is sought for children 12 years of age and younger. However, there is no legal age of consent for health care in BC. Children and youth under 19 years of age can legally consent to or refuse vaccinations on their own behalf if they demonstrate capability. This is called "mature minor consent". 
 
"Mature minor consent" is the consent a child or youth gives to receive health care after the child has been assessed by a healthcare provider as having the necessary understanding to give consent. For more information about mature minor consent for vaccines, refer to the HealthLinkBC File: The Infants Act, Mature Minor Consent and Immunization.
 
Who can give consent for a child or youth to get their COVID-19 vaccine?
 
Parents or guardians typically provide consent for their child or youth to be vaccinated. However, there are other individuals who may have the authority to consent to vaccination on behalf of the child or youth, including foster parents and custodial caregivers (for example, a grandmother or aunt raising the child). A parent/guardian can also give another individual permission to give consent for their child’s vaccination. A note must be provided which includes the following information: 
  • Name of the parent/guardian
  • Name and date of birth of the child or youth
  • Name of the individual given authority to consent
  • Date and signature of the parent/guardian who has given their authority to another individual

Other

What does the World Health Organization (WHO) say about children and youth getting the COVID-19 vaccine? 
 
First, it’s important to note that the WHO plays an important role in providing recommendations globally, not regionally. This means the WHO prioritization for vaccination at a global level may be different than that of Canada or BC, because they have to look at the big picture worldwide. 
 
The WHO (June 2021) states: “Children and adolescents tend to have milder disease compared to adults, so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions, and health workers.”   
 
This statement reflects the fact that, as a global community with a limited vaccine supply, it's more urgent to vaccinate people most at risk around the world, such as older people, those with chronic health conditions, and healthcare workers, before we turn our attention to vaccinating those who are less at risk. 
 
We are fortunate in BC that we have vaccinated the majority of our population and still have vaccines, and we can offer them to children and youth. This is a privilege that much of the world does not have, which is why the WHO recommendation focuses on vaccinating those most at risk. 
 
Date last reviewed: 
Thursday, Nov 25, 2021