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Do kids with developmental disabilities have a higher risk for COVID?

Dennis Z. Kuo, MD, MHS, FAAP


Some children and teens can get very sick from COVID infections. This may include children and teens with developmental disabilities. There are several reasons why they may be at higher risk.

For example, kids with developmental disabilities may have accompanying health conditions that result in more medical complications and make it harder to fight off COVID. They may spend more time in places where they are exposed to people who provide necessary teaching and therapies, so it may be harder to prevent the spread of COVID. If it takes more time to learn to use face masks and follow other precautions, kids with developmental disabilities will be at higher risk of exposure to COVID.

If your child or teen has a health condition that puts them at higher risk, they may need additional vaccine doses, too.

Should kids with developmental or intellectual disabilities get the COVID vaccine for their age (in months and years) or their developmental age?

Your child should get the vaccine dose recommended for their age at the time they receive the vaccine. Vaccine dosage is based on a person's age in months or years.

In the COVID vaccine trials, dosages were based on a person's age in months or years. Children and teens with developmental or intellectual disabilities and children who were born prematurely participated in the vaccine trials. Read on for more answers.

How does the COVID vaccine work?

The age of a person's immune system is what matters when it comes to the size of a vaccine dose. Just like other vaccines your child receives, the COVID vaccine teaches the body how to stop germs before they can make your child sick. Just a very small dose is all it takes for the body to remember how to stop germs in the future. Cells in the immune system go to the spot where the vaccine is given, rather than the vaccine needing to get all around the body. The immune cells study the information from the vaccine so they know what to do to get rid of the virus.

Most medicines work differently than vaccines. Antibiotics, for example, help the body get rid of germs when your child is sick. For example, the dosage of antibiotics is based on how much a person weighs. Their body needs the right amount of medicine so it can reach all the places of infection and get rid of the germs.

If my child with developmental disabilities wears a mask, do they still need a COVID vaccine?

Yes! Along with COVID vaccination and boosters, mask wearing when recommended and other safety measures such as physical distancing, testing and hand washing are key to reducing COVID infection and spread.

The vaccines are safe, and they are the best public health measure to protect people from COVID-19, slow transmission, and reduce the likelihood of new variants emerging.

Children and teens should get vaccinated even if they have allergies to food, pets, insects, venom, pollen, dust, latex or oral medicines. The vaccine does not contain eggs, preservatives, latex, or metals. However, if your child or teen has a history of an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the vaccine (for example, polyethylene glycol or polysorbate), they should not get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.

Time and research will determine if additional shots are needed. For now, we know that COVID vaccines protect kids from serious disease and hospitalization. Being vaccinated and boosted is especially important to protect everyone now that more contagious strains are spreading quickly and infecting more children.

More information

Dennis Z. Kuo, MD, MHS, FAAP

​Dr. Kuo is the immediate past chairperson of the AAP Council on Children with Disabilities. He is also the Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center/Golisano Children's Hospital.​​

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2022)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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