COVID-19 vaccines FAQ for youth aged 12 to 17
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.
- My child or teen had COVID-19. Do they still need the vaccine? Won’t they be immune and have better protection from natural infection?
Children and teens who have had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated. This is because not everyone develops a strong immune response (protection) after having COVID-19. Vaccination is the best way to help develop immunity and provide better and longer-lasting protection against current and future variants of the virus.Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is also a safer way to build protection than getting sick with COVID-19. While COVID-19 tends to cause mild illness in most children and teens, some children and teens (including those with underlying medical conditions) can get severely ill from COVID-19.Learn more about getting vaccinated after having COVID-19.
- How many doses of the COVID-19 vaccine do youth 12 to 17 years of age need?
The vaccine is given to most youth as a 2 dose series. For some youth who are moderately to severely immunosuppressed, 3 doses are recommended. Learn more about who is eligible to receive a third dose.Youth aged 12 to 17 are also eligible for a booster dose at least 6 months after their initial series. 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 for young people ages 12 to 17.
- 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
- Why should my child or teen get the COVID-19 vaccine when it typically causes mild illness in children and youth and is less effective against Omicron?
While COVID-19 tends to cause mild illness in most children and youth, some children and youth (including those with underlying medical conditions) can get severely ill from COVID-19. The Omicron variant spreads more easily from person to person, and many more children and teens are becoming infected and being hospitalized with COVID-19. Some children and youth who get infected can:
While vaccines are less effective at preventing infection from the Omicron variant (compared to other variants like Delta), current data suggests they provide good protection against serious illness and hospitalization due to Omicron.
- Develop 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.
- Continue to feel sick weeks or months after the initial illness. This is called Post-COVID-19 condition or “long COVID”. Early studies suggest that "long COVID" is less common in children and young people than adults.
- Vaccination reduces the risk of children and youth getting COVID-19 and spreading it to others, including more vulnerable family and community members.
- Vaccination is very important, even for those who have previously been infected with COVID-19. While infection alone provides some protection, vaccination after infection helps improve the immune response and may provide better and longer-lasting protection against current and future variants of the virus.
- What are the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination in youth?
Vaccination helps keep youth safe and is the best way to protect youth from severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19.While most children and youth who get COVID-19 have a minor illness, some can get very sick. Unfortunately, with the Delta and Omicron variants, we are seeing more children and youth getting sick and being hospitalized with COVID-19.Some children and youth may continue to feel sick for weeks or months after the initial illness. This is called Post-COVID-19 condition or “long COVID”. Early studies suggest that "long COVID" is less common in children and young people than adults.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, such as the elderly.
- Reduce the risk of new variants of concern appearing. 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.
- I heard that children and teens don’t transmit the COVID-19 virus to others. So how does my child or teen getting vaccinated help protect others?
Just like adults, children and teens can transmit (spread) COVID-19 to others.
Vaccination reduces the risk of children and teens getting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.
- Early in the pandemic, children and teens were not often identified as spreaders of COVID-19. However, this was mostly because schools and activities were closed or not held in person.
- Since things have opened up again, outbreaks among teens at camps, sporting events, and schools show that teens spread COVID-19.
- Further, studies that looked at the risk of children and teens spreading COVID-19 to others in their households showed that they do spread the virus.
- Children and teens can spread COVID-19 to others when they do not have symptoms.
- Are mRNA COVID-19 vaccines safe for youth?
The Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) and Moderna (Spikevax) mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe for youth. These vaccines were tested in youth through clinical trials. Health Canada reviewed the data from the clinical trials and determined that the 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. As of November 2021, two million youth in Canada and over 250 thousand youth in BC aged 12 to 17 had 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.
- The most common side effects reported by youth are pain where the vaccine was given, fatigue, headache, chills, and muscle aches.
- 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:
When considering long-term risks, a COVID-19 infection is a much more serious concern.
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.
- 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.
- Can mRNA COVID-19 vaccines alter a person’s DNA?
No. In this video, Dr. Paul Offit at the Vaccine Education Center explains how mRNA vaccines are not able to alter a person’s DNA for these three reasons:
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.
- 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.
- Are the spike proteins generated by the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines harmful?
There is no evidence that vaccine-generated spike proteins are harmful.
Want to know more about this?
The mRNA vaccines work by teaching our cells how to make a harmless spike protein that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. The body then makes antibodies to help you fight infection if the COVID-19 virus enters your body.
Some people are concerned that the spike proteins generated by COVID-19 vaccines can cause harm to the body’s organs or tissues. However, there is no evidence that the vaccine-generated spike proteins cause harm.
COVID-19 infection, however, can damage many organs and tissues. It is important to focus on the right risk.
The vaccine-generated spike proteins don't last long in the body; the immune system quickly identifies, attacks, and destroys them.
Scientists estimate that the spike proteins, like other proteins our bodies create, may stay in the body for up to a few weeks.
- 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.”
- 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
- 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.
Government of Canada
- Vaccines for children and youth: COVID-19
- Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine
- Moderna Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine
Links to more scientific research and literature supporting the content in this FAQ can be found in the reference sections of the documents below.
Canadian Paediatric Society
- Clinical guidance for youth with myocarditis and pericarditis following mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination (Sept 1 2021)
- Position Statement COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 years and older (Dec 8 2021)
National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI)