Adolescents and the COVID-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know

The introduction of COVID-19 vaccines widely available to the public has drastically changed the pandemic landscape in the United States. As of May 10, 2021 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded the current Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 years old. This means that 12-15 year old adolescents, an extra 17 million people, can safely receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and are encouraged to do so.

The United States is coming to a tipping point in which vaccine supply may start to exceed demand. This tipping point may obstruct the current upward vaccination trend, so involving adolescents in the vaccination push can be a huge help with overall vaccination coverage. As social influencers, these adolescents can act as vaccine ambassadors in their desire for restarting summer camps, in-person learning, and safely visiting other vaccinated friends – all to spread awareness on the importance of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in order to end the pandemic.

A barrier to adolescents receiving their COVID-19 vaccine is parent/guardian permission, and the guidelines for this permission vary from state to state. CNN has compiled a list of every states’ parent/guardian consent requirements; every state except Iowa has some sort of guideline for this consent, and a number of states have age-specific guidelines within the 12-15 year vaccination block. Some businesses and pharmacies also have their own guidelines, such as CVS Health, which requires parent/guardian permission for all adolescents regardless of state boundaries. 

For the most current parent/guardian consent information, contact your state’s health department. Parents/guardians who feel hesitant about giving permission for their child to receive the vaccine, can read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents. It’s important to note the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should not be given to anyone with a known history of a severe allergic reaction, including anaphylaxis—to any component of the vaccine.

We’re also seeing major strides in campaigns to vaccinate this age group — President Biden announced as of May 4, 2021 that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be available in pediatrician offices, as well as schools in the form of vaccine drives, which will increase the confidence in and accessibility of the vaccine for adolescents.

Like adults, side effects are normal and to be expected in this age group and typically last 1-3 days. With the exception of pain at the injection site, more adolescents reported these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose. Side effects may range from: 

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Joint pain

Vaccinating adolescents may bring us closer to achieving the national goal of 70% COVID-19 vaccination by the 4th of July. It may also mean a return to in-person learning sooner rather than later. But it will take all of us working together to make this happen. For additional information, the FDA has developed fact sheets for Healthcare Providers Administering the Vaccine and for Recipients and Caregivers.

To find a COVID-19 vaccination site near you, visit www.vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX), or call 1-800-232-0233.