The COVID-19 vaccine has gotten plenty of attention lately for its slow rollout across the country and arguments over who is prioritized for vaccination. But with everything going on, there’s one population that has largely been left out of the vaccine discussion: children.
Neither the Pfizer-BioNTech nor Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been authorized for use in younger children. Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for use in teens ages 16 and up; the Moderna vaccine is authorized for ages 18 and up.
The minimum age requirement is not shocking — it’s common for children, along with pregnant women, to be excluded from early vaccine trials, Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life.
But without the proper safety data and authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, younger children can’t be vaccinated against the virus. That’s a problem for some school systems like the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has discussed requiring kids to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before they can resume in-person learning. The district’s chief of special education, equity and access clarified in a letter to the editor to the L.A. Times that administrators “fully anticipate” having students back on campus before vaccines are available to children. “There is no vaccine currently approved for children, so the actual vaccination of students is likely a ways off,” Anthony Aguilar wrote on Jan. 12.
Naturally, that raises questions about how soon kids can expect to be vaccinated against the virus. It’s likely that safety data will be available for younger children “closer to the summer,” infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. After that, it’s also likely that children will still need to wait to get vaccinated.
Pfizer revealed on ClinicalTrials.gov that it is no longer recruiting 12- to 15-year-old for its trial for the vaccine in younger children as of Jan. 22. But Moderna is having difficulty finding teen recruits for its clinical trial. Moncef Slaoui, a Biden administration consultant and scientific lead for the U.S. government vaccination program Operation Warp Speed, said in a recent press conference that while a vaccine trial in adults is recruiting about 800 volunteers a day, the teen trial is only getting roughly 800 volunteers a month. "It's really very important for all of us, for all the population in America, to realize that we can't have that indication unless adolescents aged 12 to 18 decide to participate," he said, according to USA Today.
“I keep telling patients that, realistically, between testing, authorization, distribution and supply, it will be six months — maybe more,” Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and Chair of Pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.
Even once the vaccine is authorized for children, they will probably need to wait to get vaccinated, Fisher says. “They are back of the line because of who COVID strikes hardest and first,” she says.
Adalja agrees. “The vaccine is currently targeted to high-risk individuals to try to decrease hospital capacity— not to decrease spread,” he says. “Eventually, we will decrease spread with the vaccine, but it shouldn’t be used for schools to decide to start in-person learning.”
Dr. Lawrence Kleinman, chief of the Division of Population Health, Quality, and Implementation Science at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life that getting kids vaccinated before spring is “magical thinking and hoping.”
“I share the hoping but I can’t share the thinking that this vaccine timeline is going to happen faster,” he says.
Dr. John Schreiber, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that it’s important for people to understand that “kids are not adults, and the process can’t be rushed.” He points out that existing trials are including children aged 12 and up, so there will likely be an even larger delay in safety data for younger kids.
“If we hit the ball out of the park with safety data, we would be able to immunize older kids before September,” he says. “I think that’s very aggressive, but it’s possible.” Even so, Schreiber says, “we’re not going to have any data for small children and babies.”
Once the safety data is available, the vaccine is authorized for children and supplies are available, children will likely be vaccinated in tiers, Adalja says. “It would make more sense to roll this out to high school students and work down in age from there,” he says
And, of course, more high-risk individuals need to come first. “Everybody needs the vaccine, and everybody will get the vaccine,” Fisher says. “But we have to prioritize the adults over the kids.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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