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-19 vaccine. It's especially important for those with underlying health conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart conditions (like rheumatic heart disease). 


Immunising children aged 12 and over against COVID-19

The Ministry of Health recommends immunisation for tamariki (children) and rangatahi (young people) to keep them safe and help protect your whānau and community from COVID-19.

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?

Tamariki and rangatahi can:

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

COVID-19 and children

Most younger tamariki who get COVID-19 seem to get mild symptoms or none at all.

In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, tamariki, particularly younger tamariki, were less likely than adults to catch the virus causing COVID-19.

There is now evidence of increasing COVID-19 infections in tamariki. There were much higher rates of COVID-19 infection in children in Aotearoa in 2021 and 2022 than in 2020.

Groups of children at higher risk from COVID-19 

Tamariki and rangatahi 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 tamariki have the COVID-19 vaccine. It's also important that parents and caregivers of these tamariki and rangatahi 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 a history of Kawasaki disease.

Which COVID-19 vaccines are available in New Zealand?

There are 2 types of COVID-19 vaccines available in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

The Pfizer vaccine

Pfizer vaccines are used for:

  • tamariki under 12 years
  • those aged 12 and over for their first 2 doses of the vaccine (primary course)
  • boosters 
  • pregnant people

The Novavax vaccine

The Novavax vaccine is another vaccine option that is only available for:

  • those aged 12 and over for their first 2 doses of the vaccine (primary course)
  • those aged 18 and over for a booster

What’s in the vaccines?

The Pfizer vaccine and the Novovax vaccine cannot give you COVID-19. These vaccines do not contain any of the virus that causes COVID-19, or any other live, dead or deactivated viruses. These vaccines do not affect your DNA or genes. 

Find out more about the COVID-19 vaccines used in New Zealand on the ‘Unite Against COVID-19’ website 

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

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
  • fever 

These usually last less than 48 hours.

Managing side effects

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.

Rare side effects

Serious allergic reaction

A serious allergic reaction or anaphylaxis from the vaccine is rare. This is why you need to wait for a while after you have your vaccine. Vaccine sites are well-trained to manage allergic reactions if they happen. 

Myocarditis and pericarditis

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. Pericarditis is inflammation of the tissue forming a sac around the heart. The cause of myocarditis and pericarditis is usually a viral infection.  Rarely, myocarditis and pericarditis can be a rare and serious side effect of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Symptoms of myocarditis or pericarditis linked to the vaccine can happen within a few days to weeks after having the vaccine. 

Symptoms of myocarditis and pericarditis include:

  • breathlessness
  • chest or neck pain (sudden and lasting)
  • chest tightness or pressure
  • a feeling of your heart racing
  • feeling faint or light-headed

Tamariki are less likely to have these side effects but may not tell you about any symptoms. Ask your child how they are feeling following their vaccine. If your child has any symptoms, seems unwell, or you are concerned, see your GP practice, 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.

See the Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand website for more information on vaccine safety and side effects

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.

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 tamariki can have their immunisation at the same time as their parents or caregivers.

You can book online or through the COVID-19 Vaccination Healthline on 0800 28 29 26 (8am to 8pm, 7 days a week).

To be fully protected, tamariki 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, but the timing of vaccine doses will be slightly different. Talk to your healthcare provider, and they can advise you on the best time for your child to have their immunisation after COVID-19. They may have to wait before they get their vaccine because infection with COVID-19 can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 again.

Can my child have a booster?

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

Healthy tamariki under 16 years old are not eligible for boosters.

Can my child have the COVID-19 vaccine with other immunisations?

There is no spacing needed between the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines. Tamariki 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.See the Te Whatu Ora | Health New Zealand website for more information on COVID-19 vaccines in New Zealand

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 19 December 2023.

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