How to talk to your children about COVID-19 vaccines

Help your child understand how vaccines work.

By UNICEF
Dilan and his mother Mariangelis in Ecuador.
UNICEF/UNI213987/UNICEF
19 May 2021

News about COVID-19 vaccines is flooding our daily lives and it is only natural that curious young children will have questions – lots of them. Here are some tips for helping to explain what can be a complicated topic in simple and reassuring terms.

 

1. Make sure you’re up to date yourself

Before talking to your children about COVID-19 vaccines, it is important that you understand them yourself. A great place to start is our conversation with Dr. Mike Varshavski.

>>What you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines

 

2. Ask and listen

Invite your child to share what they have heard about COVID-19 vaccines and listen to their responses. It is important to be fully engaged and take any fears they have seriously. Be patient, the pandemic and misinformation has caused a lot of worry and uncertainty for everyone. Let them know that they can always talk to you or another trusted adult (such as a teacher) about their concerns.


3. Be honest with them

Children have a right to know what is going on, but it should be explained to them in an age-appropriate way. Keep in mind that kids take their emotional cues from adults, so even if you are worried for your little one knowing that they might be uncomfortable, try not to overshare your fears with your child. Play can be a helpful tool for working through difficult emotions with younger children. If your little one seems anxious, try drawing together or exploring his/her feelings through pretend play.
 

4. Answer their questions

Here are some kid-friendly responses to keep in your back pocket for questions your child may have about COVID-19 vaccines:

What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is like a shield that protects you from an illness.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines teach your body how to fight off illnesses. They do that by putting a tiny piece of the germ that causes the illness you need protection from (or something that looks like the germ) inside your body, so your body can learn what it needs to do to fight it off. This way if you ever come into contact with the illness your body knows exactly what to do, which stops you from getting sick.

Are vaccines safe?

Yes, vaccines are very safe! Millions of children (and adults!) get vaccinated every year, which helps protect them from lots of diseases. When we get a vaccine, we might get a temperature or some aches, but this doesn’t last long and is many times better than getting sick from the illness. These signs also show that the vaccine is working and that your body is building up the protection it needs to fight the disease.

When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Older people [give an example of a family member or friend] are more at risk of getting sick from COVID-19 than children. That’s why the vaccines are being given to adults first. Doctors are now testing the vaccines to make sure that they work well for children too. We will get the news from our Ministry of Health once it’s ready for kids. In the meantime, it’s important that we continue to keep ourselves and others safe by wearing masks, washing our hands and physical distancing.

A note for parents: Children are not amongst the priority groups for receiving COVID-19 vaccines and that this will remain the case for many countries in the world. This is because the focus is on protecting those most at risk of severe disease and death due to COVID-19 – the elderly, those with other illnesses and front line health workers. These populations must be vaccinated prior to the vaccination of children.

I’m scared of shots! Do I have to get one?

I understand how you’re feeling, but here’s the thing: It’ll be over in the blink of an eye! You’ll feel a quick pinch and then all done, just like you did for other vaccines. When and if it’s time for children to be vaccinated, we’ll practice what it’s like at home before we go to your appointment. That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect and we can plan something nice afterwards to celebrate!

 

Remember, if you don’t know the answer, don’t guess. Use it as an opportunity to explore the answers together. Websites of international organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization are great sources of information. If you have an older child, they can learn more and get involved on Voices of Youth, a global community of young people.