Should Teens and Children Get the COVID-19 Vaccines?

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Andrew Kung, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at MSK Kids

Andrew Kung, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at MSK Kids

As more adults are getting vaccinated, you may have questions about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines for teenagers and children. The US Food and Drug Administration has granted the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine emergency use authorization for people ages 16 and up, and New York State will soon make vaccines available to that age group. Andrew Kung, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at MSK Kids, offers the latest on what is known about the vaccines for younger patients and when they will have the opportunity to be immunized.

Have all the COVID-19 vaccines been approved for use in people as young as 16?

No. Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and up. Vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen are currently authorized for ages 18 and up.

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Does MSK recommend vaccinating cancer patients 16 and older?

Yes. We are urging all our patients to be vaccinated because people with cancer are at greater risk for serious complications from COVID-19. Currently, there are no known risks for people with compromised immune systems, as the vaccine does not contain a live virus. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was tested in large clinical trials and was rigorously reviewed by the FDA before being determined as safe and effective for people age 16 and over.

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If my child is age 16 or 17 and an MSK patient, can they be vaccinated at MSK?

We are vaccinating the following MSK Kids patients age 16 and over:

  • inpatients
  • outpatients in active treatment who live in New York State
  • outpatients no longer in active treatment who live in New York State
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How can I make an appointment at MSK to get my 16- or 17-year-old vaccinated against COVID-19?

At this time, vaccine appointments for this age group cannot be made through the self-scheduling link on mskcc.org. The appointment should only be made by calling your doctor’s office.

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Can my 16- or 17-year-old child be vaccinated without a parent or guardian present?

No. One parent or guardian must be on-site to consent to their child getting the vaccine. A parent or guardian is not permitted to give consent over the phone or electronically. They must be present at the vaccine appointment.

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My child is a patient at MSK. Can I, as a caregiver, be vaccinated too? What about others in the family? 

Pediatric caregivers who are age 18 and over and who routinely undergo COVID-19 testing at MSK according to our policy are eligible to be vaccinated at MSK, even if the child is not eligible due to age or clinical condition. Caregivers of outpatient pediatric patients must be residents of New York State. Our designated appointment staff will help caregivers schedule their vaccination.   

Other family members will not be able to receive the vaccine at MSK. Still, we urge all household members to get vaccinated as soon as they become eligible.

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I’ve heard about a severe immune response to COVID-19 in children called MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. Is it possible the vaccines could trigger a severe reaction in children?

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is a rare complication in children infected with COVID-19. The vaccines do not cause MIS-C, and by preventing COVID-19 infection, they actually prevent MIS-C.

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When will children younger than 16 be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Researchers are still studying the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines for adolescents, children, and infants. Pfizer-BioNTech reports an early study found the vaccine is 100% effective in adolescents ages 12 to 15 years old — even more effective than in adults. The clinical trial included about 2,000 participants and found that none who were vaccinated got COVID-19. There were no serious side effects. Just like adults, these adolescents received two doses of the vaccine, three weeks apart.

It’s important to note these are early results that need to be verified and carefully reviewed by the FDA. Results from Moderna’s vaccine clinical trial in adolescents are expected in the coming weeks.

Pfizer-BioNTech has started to test the vaccine in younger children, ages 2 to 12, followed by trials in children ages 6 months to 2 years. Moderna is also starting a trial for children 6 months to 12 years. Johnson & Johnson/Janssen is in the process of or planning to test their vaccines in adolescents and children under 12.


April 6, 2021


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