COVID-19 Immunisation In Children Aged 12 & Over

COVID-19 Immunisation In Children Aged 12 & Over

Find out why it's important for your child 12 and over to have the COVID vaccine. It's especially important for those with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart conditions (like rheumatic heart disease). Watch the videos. Make a booking now.

COVID vaccine for those who have (non acute) rheumatic heart disease

Matt Johnson had rheumatic fever when he was younger. He's had 3 major heart surgeries since then. Despite his underlying health conditions, he's had no issues with the COVID vaccine, besides having a sore arm for a day or two. He says "let's get vaccinated team". Thank you to Matt Johnson for sharing his story.

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Key points to remember about COVID-19 immunisation in children

  • children aged 12 and over can book their COVID-19 vaccine now

Find out about the COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 years

Why immunise my child aged 12 and over against COVID-19?

Children can:

  • be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19
  • get sick from COVID-19
  • spread COVID-19 to others

COVID-19 and children

  1. Most younger children who get COVID-19 seem to get mild symptoms or none at all.
  2. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, children, particularly younger children, were less likely than adults to catch SARS-CoV2 (the virus causing COVID-19). There was also evidence that children didn't spread the virus as much as adults.
  3. Since then, more infectious variants of COVID-19 have developed. Also, increasing numbers of adults have had immunisation against COVID-19.
  4. There is now evidence of increasing COVID-19 infections in children. There have been much higher rates of COVID infection in children in 2021 and 2022 in Aotearoa than in 2020.
  5. There is also evidence of COVID-19 spreading between age groups (for example, between adults and children).

Groups of children at higher risk from COVID-19 

Children and teens with some medical conditions do have an increased risk of getting severe COVID-19 and ending up in hospital. These conditions include breathing conditions (like severe asthma and cystic fibrosis); diabetes; disabilities involving the nervous system (like cerebral palsy); heart conditions (like rheumatic heart disease). It's very important that these children have the COVID-19 vaccine. It's also important that parents and caregivers of these children and young people have the COVID-19 vaccine.

Most people (5 years of age and over) with pre-existing heart conditions can have the COVID-19 vaccine. This includes those with pre-existing (non acute) rheumatic heart disease, congenital heart disease or history of Kawasaki disease.

Is it safe for my child to have the COVID-19 vaccine?

Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective for this age group.

Like adults, children and young people may have some side effects after COVID-19 immunisation. These side effects may affect their ability to do daily activities, but the side effects should go away in a few days. The risk of harm to children from COVID-19 infection remains much higher than the risk to them from vaccine side effects.

The Pfizer vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccine used in New Zealand is the Pfizer vaccine which:

  • is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine
  • does not contain any live virus, or dead or deactivated virus
  • can't give you COVID-19
  • can't affect your DNA

Side effects

Like with any medicine, your child might have some mild side effects 1 to 2 days after their immunisation. This is common, and a sign that their body is learning to fight the virus. Side effects can include being sore at the injection site, tiredness, headache and fever. These usually last less than 48 hours.

For those who do feel uncomfortable or unwell afterwards, the suggestions at the 'Unite Against COVID-19' website are to:

  • place a cold, wet cloth or ice pack on the injection site for a short time
  • rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • consider taking paracetamol or ibuprofen

If your child has paracetamol or ibuprofen, follow the dosage instructions. It is dangerous to give more than the recommended dose.

Side effects from immunisation experience in the US

By July 2021, about 8.9 million teenagers (aged 12 to 17) in the US have received the Pfizer COVID vaccine. The most common reported side effects were not serious and included:

  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • headache
  • needing a day off school after the second dose

Rare side effects

Anaphylaxis

About 5 in a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine lead to anaphylaxis. The risk is slightly higher for those with a history of allergies or anaphylaxis. All vaccine sites can manage anaphylaxis - that's why you need to wait for a while after you have your vaccine.

Myocarditis and pericarditis

It seems there is a very small risk of myocarditis or pericarditis after having the Pfizer vaccine. The symptoms of myocarditis may happen in the first week following immunisation. Myocarditis and pericarditis are rare but happen most often in males and those aged 12 to 29 years after the second vaccine dose.

Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis include:

  • breathlessness
  • chest pain (sudden and lasting)
  • chest tightness or pressure
  • a feeling of your heart racing

If your teenager or young adult has any of these symptoms in the week after having the Pfizer vaccine, see your family doctor, after hours clinic or emergency department.

If your child or young adult has myocarditis or pericarditis, they should recover without any specific treatment. Your healthcare professional will give you information about what to look out for.

The following video discusses the relative risk of having COVID-19 versus the COVID-19 vaccine. The video discusses myocarditis as a rare side effect of the Pfizer vaccine.

The video is one of a series made by 'Stuff' in partnership with Māori Television and Pacific Media Network.

Are there any reasons why my child or I cannot have the COVID vaccine?

The Pfizer COVID vaccine does not contain any virus - it is not a live vaccine. It cannot cause COVID-19 illness. This means almost everyone can have it. This includes people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, have medical conditions, or are receiving treatments that weaken the immune system, or who have autoimmune diseases.

See more information about who can't have the Pfizer COVID vaccine from the Immunisation Advisory Centre.

Find out more about the very small group who can't have the vaccine

How can I book COVID-19 immunisation for my child?

When parents or caregivers make their own appointments, they can also make appointments for their child. That means children can have their immunisation at the same time as their parents or caregivers.

You can book online or through the COVID Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week).

To be fully protected, children 12 to 15 years of age need 2 doses of the vaccine, with a gap of 3 weeks or more between the first and second dose.  

You can book your vaccine online

Can my child still have the COVID-19 vaccine if they have had COVID?

Yes they can. The timing of vaccine doses will be slightly different. This is because infection with COVID-19 reduces the risk of getting COVID-19 again.

For children who have had COVID before dose 1

Your child can have the first dose about 12 weeks after they have recovered from COVID symptoms, or 12 weeks after a positive PCR or RAT test (if your child had COVID with mild or no symptoms).

Your child can have the second dose 3 weeks or more after the first dose.

For children who have had COVID in between doses 1 and 2

If your child has already had dose 1, delay dose 2 until 12 weeks after your child has recovered from COVID symptoms, or 12 weeks after a positive PCR or RAT test (if your child had COVID with mild or no symptoms). 

Graphic showing when to get vaccine doses after being COVID positive

Can my child have a booster?

Young people aged 16 and 17 can now have a free booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least 6 months after their first 2 doses of the vaccine. 

This follows Medsafe's provisional approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose for this age group.

That means around 36,000 rangatahi aged 16 and 17 years can have a booster dose.

Can my child have the COVID vaccine with other immunisations?

There is no spacing needed between the COVID vaccine and other vaccines. Your child aged 5 years and over can have other vaccines (such as flu or HPV) before, after, or at the same time as their COVID-19 vaccine. 

Where can I get up to date information on COVID-19 immunisation?

COVID-19 vaccine safety

You can read more about vaccine development, safety, and side effects.

Read about vaccine development, safety and effectiveness at the 'Unite Against COVID-19' website

Information about COVID-19 immunisation for children aged 12 to 15

Check some information about COVID-19 immunisation aimed at 12 to 15 year olds

COVID leaflet cover

A video about how the vaccine works (English, Te Reo Māori, Samoan)

You can watch a video from The Immunisation Advisory Centre.

Watch a short video in Te Reo Māori answering the most common questions about the COVID-19 vaccine

Watch the video in English

Watch the video in Samoan

A video about vaccine safety

A video from The Immunisation Advisory Centre.

This page last reviewed 13 September 2021.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it