COVID-19 and the Head Start Community

Vaccination for Head Start Children

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that children ages 6 months through 4 years be vaccinated against COVID-19. This extension of vaccine availability to children under age 5 is another major milestone in our nation's efforts to protect more children, their families, and our communities during the pandemic.

The availability of a vaccine for children under age 5 has no bearing on the vaccine and mask requirements in the Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC). At this time, Head Start programs should continue to follow the requirements laid out in the IFC in all states not subject to preliminary injunctions.

The Office of Head Start (OHS) wants to ensure that all families have access to accurate information about the pediatric vaccine and that all families have the ability to get the vaccine. Research shows that families are often more comfortable talking with trusted health and early childhood providers in their communities — and families often feel that comfort with the professionals in their Head Start program. As one of our nations' best providers of health, family engagement, and early education services, the Head Start community serves as a critical resource to increase families' access to important health resources and supports for young children.

Consistent, honest, and respectful communication with families is a cornerstone of Head Start family engagement. Your engagement strategies and current channels of communication with families provide excellent avenues to talk about vaccination. Programs may also consider new ideas for targeted promotions that support Head Start families in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccination for Children Ages 6 Months through 5 years

The CDC now recommends children ages 6 months through 5 years be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccines. Children get a smaller dose of COVID-19 vaccine than teens and adults that is the right amount for their age group.

  • For the Moderna COVID-19 pediatric vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) to include use of the vaccine in children ages 6 months through 5 years. An adult version of the vaccine previously was authorized for use only in adults 18 years of age and older.
  • For the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the FDA amended the EUA to include use of the vaccine in children ages 6 months through 4 years. The pediatric vaccine previously was authorized for use only in children age 5 and older.

Families who choose vaccination for themselves and their children are critical partners in protecting their communities, including the majority of our Head Start children who are newly eligible to be vaccinated. Head Start staff are encouraged to engage families in supportive and informative conversations about the safety and benefits of vaccinating children ages 6 months and older.

Rely on your family engagement strategies to address vaccination of Head Start children. Many families are trying to decide what is right for them. Encourage anyone seeking additional information talk to their child's health care provider to get the facts.

Find a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months through 5 years at vaccines.gov.

About the Vaccines

On June 17, 2022, the FDA authorized the emergency use of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to include children ages 6 months through 4 years. The FDA's evaluation and analysis of the safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing data of these vaccines was rigorous and comprehensive, supporting the EUAs. The agency determined that the known and potential benefits of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines outweigh the known and potential risks in the pediatric populations authorized for use for each vaccine. Prior to making the decision to authorize these vaccines for the respective pediatric populations, the FDA's independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee was consulted and voted in support of the authorizations.

The Moderna COVID-19 pediatric vaccine is administered as a primary series of two doses, one month apart, to children 6 months through 5 years. The vaccine is also authorized to provide a third primary series dose at least one month following the second dose for children in this age group who have been determined to have certain kinds of immunocompromise.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 pediatric vaccine is administered as a primary series of three doses in which the initial two doses are administered three weeks apart followed by a third dose administered at least eight weeks after the second dose in individuals 6 months through 4 years. The same vaccine is administered to children age 5 as a primary series of two doses administered three weeks apart.

COVID-19 vaccines have undergone — and will continue to undergo — the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. Vaccinating children will help protect them from getting COVID-19 and reduce their risk of severe disease, hospitalizations, or developing long-term COVID-19 complications.

Federal Resources

Family and Community COVID-19 Vaccination Outreach

COVID-19 is encouraging Head Start programs to work within their communities to get people vaccinated. Vaccination is the safest way to protect individuals and the people they live and work with from getting COVID-19. It's also an important part of moving Head Start Forward and returning to safe, comprehensive in-person services.

Explore examples of vaccine outreach and support activities Head Start programs can consider below.

Promote and support connections between families and their trusted health providers. Trust between parents and health providers is always critical for families with young children, and it's particularly important as parents weigh and consider the safety and benefits of the pediatric vaccine for their children. Continue to connect families to their child's health care provider to get the facts about COVID-19 vaccination. Identify families' health care preferences and prioritize supports that strengthen families' connections to their trusted health care providers.

Provide vaccination outreach to families. Create spaces and places for families to learn and ask questions and for programs to share information about the COVID-19 vaccination. Rely on your tried-and-true family engagement relationship building strategies and activities. As you conduct outreach, consider the following:

  • Discuss with families, individually and in groups, about the safety and benefits of vaccinating children ages 5 and under. Consider embedding information in the family intake and assessment processes or setting up virtual town hall-style meetings to hear from families and share information.
  • Use your Health Services Advisory Committee, health service managers, child care health consultants, or registered nurses to share information and promote access to vaccines.
  • Engage interested Policy Council members to design word-of-mouth strategies for sharing information about the vaccine with other parents and families.
  • Invite trusted health providers to program orientations, parent meetings, and program events to talk about the vaccine.
  • Establish teams to assist families who plan to have their children vaccinated by helping families make appointments with trusted providers.

Become a vaccination site for families. Some programs have opened their doors to become vaccination sites. They have worked with their local health departments, clinics, pharmacies, and federally qualified health centers and other community-based health care providers to administer the vaccine. Follow this link to explore vaccine success stories from the field.

Expand upon or create new vaccination communication channels with families. Many Head Start programs have found it useful to include vaccine-related questions in their anonymous parent surveys, self-assessments surveys, and community assessment-related data collection. Programs can use this information to ensure they truly understand families' interests, concerns, and questions about the pediatric vaccine and plan accordingly. As you develop communications, consider the following:

  • Use your Health Services Advisory Committee, health service managers, child care health consultant, or registered nurses to adapt relevant messages from the CDC. See COVID-19 Vaccination for Children.
  • Develop your own social media posts or tailor the #HeadStartForward Social Media Toolkit with relevant vaccine information, including information on where to obtain the vaccine.
  • Create posters, buttons, and stickers for staff and families to use and wear for community awareness building.

Reach out to your local health departments and clinics. Head Start programs can share articles, blog posts, and social media messages from community health partners as an effective way to inform families. Include updates on local COVID-19 vaccination efforts during virtual town hall meetings, Policy Council meetings, and parent meetings, and through newsletters, social media, or emails to families.

Join MyPeers to connect and engage with colleagues in the early childhood community. Work together to come up with and share strategies to engage families. Your success story may serve as a template to help others!