Reopening schools and safely getting children, teachers, and educational staff back in classrooms will rely heavily on the availability and distribution of coronavirus vaccines. Adults across the country are gradually becoming inoculated, but the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for people ages 16 and up—with Moderna approved only for adults over 18. If widespread vaccination is necessary to achieve herd immunity, this leaves out a big piece of the puzzle. So, when can kids get the COVID vaccine?
Pfizer is the only pharmaceutical manufacturer currently with pediatric trials underway. Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believes that children who are elementary school age might get the vaccine by the time school starts in September 2021.
“We’re in the process of starting clinical trials in what we call age de-escalation, where you do a clinical trial with people 16-12, then 12-9, then 9-6,” said Fauci in a February 11 interview with ProPublica. “I would think by the time we get to school opening, we likely will be able to get people who come into the first grade.”
Not everyone shares Fauci’s optimism about when kids can get the COVID vaccine, however, and some pediatricians and infectious disease experts wish that manufacturers were doing more to speed up the process for children and adolescents.
Pfizer, which recently finished enrolling participants in its study of children aged 12-15, expects to have data in the “early part of 2021” with a study of children aged 5-11 to follow. But before these vaccines receive approval for the general public, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires data submitted for review and authorization.
Though Moderna is still enrolling participants in a trial for adolescents aged 12-18, it also hopes to have data in advance of the 2021 school year. However, the manufacturer doesn’t expect to have clinical data for a pending study of children ranging from six months old to 11 years until 2022. Likewise, neither Johnson & Johnson nor Novavax have begun vaccine trials in youths.
On the other hand, AstraZeneca plans to begin vaccine trials among adolescents from 12-18 in March, with results anticipated by mid-2021.
Even with pediatric vaccinations on the horizon, there is still some concern that kids, even when they get the COVID vaccine, might continue to spread and transmit the virus. Infectious disease experts are still not certain whether the current vaccines prevent people from spreading the virus. There is also scant evidence about how fluidly the coronavirus transmits among young people—who also tend to be spared from the most severe disease and are rarely hospitalized—due to the fact that many schools have remained closed throughout the pandemic.
But Dr. Sarah Long, professor of pediatrics at the Drexel University College of Medicine, thinks that the uncertainty is worth any slight risks that inoculating children might present.
“Our current chaos about children not being in schools is just terrible for children, and I think a lot of the concern would be assuaged if children were immunized,” Long also told ProPublica. “That doesn’t mean to me that they can’t get the infection or transmit it every once in a while, but it would reduce those possibilities tremendously.”
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