FAQ: COVID-19 Booster Shots for Kids

This article was published on May 20, 2022. Find the most up-to-date clinical information about COVID-19 vaccines and boosters for adults and kids.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, giving millions of kids the opportunity for increased protection against COVID-19. This booster dose would be given five months after the second dose in the initial two-shot series.

We asked UNC Health pediatric infectious diseases specialist Peyton Thompson, MD, MSCR, to answer some common questions parents may have.

Why do kids need boosters?

Vaccination remains the best way to prevent serious consequences of COVID infections, including hospitalization, long COVID and deaths.

The reason the FDA has recommended boosters for children ages 5 to 11 is because of a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations among this age group amidst the omicron surge earlier this year. Now, various subvariants of omicron are spreading.

“As in adults, children are at risk for long COVID, even after a mild infection,” Dr. Thompson says. “Additionally, vaccine effectiveness after two doses has been shown to be lower in this age group compared to that in older children and adults, perhaps because this age group received a smaller dose than older individuals.”

Clinical trial data showed that antibody levels increased one month after the booster dose.

What side effects can parents expect?

If your child has side effects, they are likely to be similar to the side effects they experienced with the initial shots. “Kids may have pain, redness and swelling at the site of their shot,” Dr. Thompson says.

Less common side effects include feeling very tired, headache, body aches, and fever and chills.

If side effects happen, they generally go away within a day or two of the shot.

Are the boosters safe?

Yes, the booster doses are safe, just as the initial vaccine doses have been proven to be safe. The FDA reviewed clinical trial data for 400 children in this age group who received a booster dose at least five months after their last dose, with no serious side effects reported.

Cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart wall) after COVID-19 vaccines have been reported, almost exclusively in male adolescents older than age 16 and young adults and usually within several days after their second dose of the vaccine.

“This age group has shown extremely low rates of myocarditis, just slightly above baseline,”

Dr. Thompson says. “It is also important to note that teenage boys had two to six times the risk of myocarditis after a COVID-19 infection compared to after the vaccine, so the benefits of vaccination clearly outweigh the risks.”

Visit unchealthcare.org/vaccine for the latest information on the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.