COVID-19 Vaccines: On Your Back-to-School Checklist

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend everyone 12 years and older get the COVID-19 vaccination to protect against COVID-19. Children ages 12-17 are eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Only 32.7% of 12–15-year-olds and 42% of 16-17-year-olds have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine series according to the latest data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Children under 12 are still not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines.

“Some individuals have a lot of questions about the COVID-19 vaccines, that’s a good thing. It is important that all families have access to accurate information about vaccine safety and effectiveness,” says Amber Canto, Director of the UW-Madison Division of Extension Institute for Health & Well-Being.

Dr. Zapata and Dr. Conway, two experienced pediatricians, talked with Extension in June about COVID-19 vaccines and the stress COVID-19 has placed on children’s and adolescent’s health. While children and adolescents generally have experienced less severe health effects from COVID-19, some adolescents and children can get extremely sick from COVID-19 and may require hospitalization. As of July 22nd, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 4.13 million children have been diagnosed with COVID-19, an estimated one in every seven COVID-19 cases. More than 400 children have passed away due to COVID-19. The good news: the available COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe illness from the COVID-19 virus.

Dr. Zapata and Dr. Conway also addressed other common questions about the COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and continue to be monitored for their safety. Serious long-term side effects from vaccination are unlikely. Some people experience post-vaccine side effects. These symptoms can be a sign that your body is building protection against COVID-19. Some vaccine side effects include pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, nausea and vomiting, and fever. Side effects are normal and should go away in a few days. It is also common for some people not to experience symptoms-that’s normal too and your body is still working to build protection.

“One of the most important things to Dr. Zapata and I is that everybody in our state and everybody in our country deserves to be protected against this disease, needs to be protected against this disease, and needs to have an equal opportunity to be protected against this terrible disease,” states Dr. Conway, pediatric infectious disease specialist with UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health.

Getting vaccinated will also protect students aged 12 years and older from the Delta variant. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services released new information about variant B.1.617.2, also known as the Delta variant. The Delta variant is now the most common strain of virus that causes COVID-19. The Delta variant is highly contagious and spreading quickly. Vaccination is a critical tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant.

There are many benefits to vaccination for students over 12 years. Vaccines are a safe way to build protection and are free. There are also social and emotional benefits to getting vaccinated. Getting vaccinated will help students return to daily activities inside and outside of the classroom.

“As families start to prepare for their kids returning to school, consider adding a conversation with your child’s health care provider about COVID-19 vaccines on your back-to-school checklist” says Amber Canto.

It can take up to five weeks for children to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, so plan ahead to be ready to go back to school.

The decision is yours. Find a COVID-19 vaccine near you at