COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across the country. We spoke with experts to learn more about the projected coronavirus vaccine timeline for kids.

By Nicole Harris
Updated July 16, 2021
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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 recently gave the go-ahead for children 12 and older. Now drugmakers predict that younger kids may be able to get vaccinated in early to mid-winter.

Keep reading for more about the projected timeline for COVID-19 vaccines and children, and learn why kids should definitely get vaccinated when they're eligible.

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.

What's more, Pfizer is currently conducting pediatric trials on children between ages 6 months and 12 years old. According to The New York Times, up to 4,500 children will participate in these trials, which are happening at more than 90 sites in the United States, Poland, Finland, and Spain.

Based on early trials that assessed safety, kids between 5 to 11 years old will be given two doses of 10 micrograms each, which is one-third of the dose for adolescents and adults. Those younger than 5 years will be given two doses of three micrograms each.

Pfizer hopes to apply for emergency use authorization for children between ages 5 and 11 this September. Kit Longley, a spokesman for Pfizer, told The New York Times that trial results for younger children (ages 2 to 5) will likely come soon afterwards, while data for kids between 6 months and 2 years old might arrive in October or November. Once this information comes in, Pfizer will likely apply to the FDA for emergency use authorization in those younger age groups.

Moderna isn't far behind. It recently announced results of its TeenCOVE study, which enrolled more than 3,700 participants between 12 and 17 years old. Those who received two doses of the vaccine reported no COVID-19 infections, giving it an efficiency of 100 percent. A single dose of Moderna proved 93 percent effective. No significant side effects were reported during the trials.

Along those lines, Moderna is currently conducting a KidCOVE study that will test approximately 6,750 children between 6 months to less than 12 years old. Results are expected in the fall.

So when will Pfizer and Moderna be available to kids under 12? According to NBC News, an FDA official recently predicted that emergency use authorization could come by mid-winter, after the administration reviews applications from the drug manufacturers. Indeed, the FDA is requiring four to six months of safety data before authorizing the vaccines for emergency use in kids (it only required two months of follow-up data for adults). Soon after this, the FDA will seek full approval for the vaccines in kids, which might eliminate some hesitancy among parents.

And what about Johnson & Johnson? They recently announced pediatric testing plans for children 12 and older, which will be followed by tests involving newborns and adolescents.

Father Putting Home Made Face Mask on Little Daughter
Credit: Getty Images

Why Were Children Initially Excluded from Clinical Trials?

COVID-19 vaccines aren't approved for younger children because they were initially excluded from vaccine clinical trials, which is an expected occurrence. "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.