Azan Alnur, a Youth Community Ambassador, smiling after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine

'Getting back to the things you love': Dr. Janine McCready on the COVID-19 vaccine for youth 12 years of age and older

By Katarina Brkic

As a mother of two herself and infectious diseases physician at Michael Garron Hospital (MGH), Dr. Janine McCready understands the importance of youth getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

On May 23, the Ontario government announced that individuals 12 years of age and older are eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. With this expanded eligibility, it is important for youth and their families to understand how the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine far outweigh the risks and that the vaccine is a critical step in ending this pandemic.

Dr. Janine McCready in her office
Dr. Janine McCready, infectious diseases physician, says the COVID-19 vaccine is an important tool for youth to protect themselves from COVID-19

Supported and well-researched studies highlight effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine

Trials and studies conducted in the United States found the Pfizer vaccine to be 100% effective against COVID-19 for youth ages 12 to 17. Vaccines help to build immunity to the COVID-19 virus and make it easier for the body to fight it off.

“A year and a half ago I didn’t think we would have these amazing vaccines that are this safe and effective,” Dr. McCready explains. “There is evidence from both studies and the real world from millions of doses given worldwide that proves the effectiveness of this vaccine."

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine uses mRNA technology to teach the body to protect itself from COVID-19.  

Dr. McCready explains how the mRNA vaccine works like a recipe: “When receiving the vaccine, your body is shown spike proteins of the COVID-19 virus which teaches your body to produce antibodies against it. Then the mRNA breaks down and disappears from the body.”

Although mRNA is a relatively new vaccine technology, researchers have been conducting studies and analyzing mRNA vaccines for decades. There has been extensive research into the technology of vaccines for years, such as Zika and Rabies.

Vaccinating youth protects them and their community

Youth are encouraged to get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves.

“Most young people who get COVID are going to have a mild illness, but there are some people who can get really sick and become hospitalized,” Dr. McCready explains. “Although this is rare, it can be deadly, so it’s important to have that protection from COVID to prevent this from occurring.”

The vaccine will also help prevent youth from spreading COVID-19 to those who are at higher risk of severe illness and complications from COVID-19.

“It’s important for youth to be vaccinated to protect their families. As much as we can minimize transmission through public health measures, youth who may be exposed can bring it home to their parents,” Dr. McCready explains. “It’s important to prevent exposure to vulnerable populations.”

Azan Alnur, a Youth Community Ambassador in Crescent Town, recently received his COVID-19 vaccine from a clinic two weeks ago. He says it’s important for his friends to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

Azan Alnur, a Youth Community Ambassador, smiling after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine
Azan Alnur, youth community ambassador in Crescent Town, smiles after receiving his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I chose to get the vaccine to not only get back to a normal life from where we were before COVID, but also protect my family,” says Azan. “They’re the ones caring for me and I’m here because of them. It’s my responsibility to get my vaccine to protect them and the community.”

Clarifying misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine

The impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on fertility is a common question and concern raised by parents and caregivers.

“There is an expected response to a vaccine of your body generating an immune response, such as a sore arm, body aches or a fever,” Dr. McCready describes. “These effects are not a sign of infertility, changing puberty or any other hormonal side effects.”

“There are no hormones or anything else inside these mRNA vaccines that would make kids or adults infertile,” Dr. McCready explains.

Parents and caregivers also express concerns about allergies.

According to Dr. McCready, individuals who have food allergies are not more likely to have an allergic reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine. After the vaccine is administered, individuals are monitored for 15 minutes to make sure there is no reaction.

The exception is if someone has an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG). Then it is suggested they do not receive the vaccine as it can cause a severe allergic reaction.

When youth receive their vaccine, they begin to build an immune response within a couple of days after the vaccine injection and may experience pain at the injection site. This does not harm them in any way and the pain will go away shortly.

Where youth can get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

Youth 12 years of age and older who would like to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine can book an appointment through the provincial booking system . Appointments can also be booked at and through hospital-based immunization clinics.

“MGH and East Toronto Health Partners (ETHP) are also holding different pop-up clinics in East Toronto for eligible populations, some of which are located at schools,” Dr. McCready says. “Last week we had eight nearby school pop-up clinics, and the week of May 31 we have 13 school clinics planned.”

Youth who are eligible to get their vaccine at these school pop-ups are encouraged to connect with their school principal for updates.

“The plan is to be able to provide students at each school in East Toronto with one or more opportunities to be vaccinated in areas they are familiar with,” says Dr. McCready. “We want to provide clinics that are close and accessible to as many families as we can as opposed to them booking an appointment and driving far away for a vaccine.”

What youth can expect during the vaccination experience

Receiving the vaccine can be intimidating when youth arrive at a clinic, specifically around needles and large crowds, but ETHP ensures all clinics are accessible and provide accommodations for those who need it.

“At first I was scared when getting my vaccine because I was afraid of needles, but it was a nice experience and a friendly environment,” Azan reflects. “It was actually way better than the flu shot – I just had a sore arm. The vaccine didn’t hurt as much as the flu shot does.”

Youth may attend the clinic alone, with a family member or with a friend. Families are encouraged to talk about vaccination and are welcome to come to be vaccinated together. According to the health care consent act, if a youth understands the vaccine, its benefits and potential risks, they can consent to receiving it on their own. Toronto Public Health allows youth 12 years of age and older to consent for the vaccine themselves.

Dr. McCready suggests that students who feel anxious may want to have a friend or family member accompany them to help them feel more comfortable. It is also suggested that if youth are anxious or concerned about the vaccine to contact their family doctor or pediatrician to help them prepare for this experience.

A chance to return to a normal life

By continuing to get vaccines in arms, we have the capability of getting back to the life we knew before COVID-19. Decreasing case counts and monitoring to make sure they do not creep back up again will allow friends and family to see each other without fear or worry about getting COVID.

“The more people who get vaccinated, the better place we’re going to be in,” says Dr. McCready.

Even if youth or families believe the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t necessary for them to receive, it is important to think of the community and other at-risk populations around them.

“For any individuals 12 years of age and older thinking about the vaccine, I strongly encourage you all to get it,” Dr. McCready concludes. “Getting vaccinated will bring you back to doing the things you love – whether it be going to camp, having a normal school year and simply just being a kid again. Vaccinations will help bring society back to normal.”

If you wish to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine for youth 12 years of age and older, ETHP is hosting a Community Q&A on the COVID-19 Vaccine for Youth and Families on Thursday, June 3 at 6 p.m. The event is moderated by Azan Alnur, youth community ambassador, and features Dr. Janine McCready, infectious diseases physician at Michael Garron Hospital; Dr. Kimberley Kitto, family physician and member of East Toronto Family Practice Network; and Sydney Olsen, paediatric nurse at VHA Home HealthCare. The event is free and open to all, but you must pre-register:

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