When Will Kids Be Able to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine? Here's What Experts Say
COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across the country. We spoke with experts to learn more about the projected coronavirus vaccine timeline for kids.
Three COVID-19 vaccines—Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson—have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization. Every American adult is now eligible to get vaccinated, and Pfizer just gave the go-ahead for children older than 12. Keep reading to learn more about when your child might be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and why they definitely should.
When Will a COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available for Children?
On May 10, Pfizer announced that its vaccine is approved for emergency use in children 12 to 15 years old (previously, only those 16 and older were eligible for the vaccine). Pfizer requested the approval after clinical trials in this age group showed 100 percent effectiveness with no red flags. This means that all high schoolers and most middle schoolers can be vaccinated against COVID-19 now.
Pfizer has also been conducting pediatric trials for children ages 6 months to 12 years old. According to The New York Times, they hope to apply for emergency use authorization for children between ages 2 and 11 this September.
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson aren't very far behind. Both vaccines can currently be given to people age 18 and older. However, Moderna introduced their KidCOVE study that will test approximately 6,750 children between 6 months to less than 12 years old; clinical trials for those ages 12 to 17 are also underway. Johnson & Johnson announced pediatric testing plans for children 12 and older, which will be followed by tests involving newborns and adolescents. Experts hope to see results from all pediatric trials in the next few months.
This news correlates with statements made by Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a February 28 interview with NBC's "Meet the Press." He predicted that the vaccine could be available to elementary school kids by the end of 2021 or early 2022. Younger children—like preschoolers, toddlers, and infants—will presumably get the go-ahead shortly after that.
Why Were Children Excluded from Clinical Trials?
Exclusion of kids from clinical trials is actually pretty common. "When testing vaccines, we usually start with adults and work down to children to establish safety data," says Christine Turley, M.D., Pediatrics Specialist and vice chair of research at Atrium Health Levine Children's. Kids have different bodies and immune systems than adults, so experts want to thoroughly understand how vaccines might react in their system.
Dr. Turley also cites ethical issues because children can't fully consent. Thanks to their still-developing brains, they have a harder time understanding potential consequences. "We want to make sure there aren't hidden risks for children. We're balancing the risks and benefits against what is ethically acceptable," explains Dr. Turley.
The good news is that the FDA has been compiling safety and efficacy data, and vaccine candidates are currently in pediatric trials. "We're in the process of starting clinical trials in what we call age de-escalation, where you do a clinical trial with people 16 to 12, then 12 to 9, then 9 to 6," Dr. Fauci told ProPublica in mid-February.
Vaccine manufacturers "start by enrolling older children, then school-aged kids, then toddlers, then infants. That's because the risks for all of those children are different," explains Dr. Turley. With each age group, researchers will evaluate dosage, frequency, side effects, and other elements.
Should My Children Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19?
Based on clinical trials in adults, Moderna and Pfizer's double-shot vaccines have success rates over 94 percent, while Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine is about 72 percent effective in America. Assuming clinical trials show similar levels of effectiveness in children, the vaccine will be key for slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
It's true that most kids get mild cases of COVID-19, but several have died from the disease, and others have suffered from a mysterious life-threatening complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Kids can also transmit COVID-19 to higher-risk family members, who might develop more severe symptoms. Widespread vaccination could return things back to normal sooner, relieving some of the physical, mental, and psychological effects of the pandemic.
Parents shouldn't fear vaccines with FDA approval, adds Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network and co-investigator on the vaccine trials. Pediatric clinical trial researchers will thoroughly examine all aspects of the vaccine for kids, and they won't give approval until they're absolutely sure of its safety. Therefore, if the vaccine becomes available to your kid, experts stress the importance of getting it.