After a year of avoiding close contact with people, working from home and teaching your children online, you might be feeling hopeful after the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. When the vaccine becomes available to the general public, it is recommended that all adults receive it, but it is not currently recommended for children.
This might not be what you expected, but there is a reason for it. Laura Morris, MD, a family medicine doctor at MU Health Care, shed some light on the situation based on the information available right now.
Why can’t children under the age of 18 get the vaccine?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved to use in age 16 and older. It was not tested in children younger than 12, and only a few children age 12-15 were included in the trial. Other manufacturers such as Moderna are beginning to recruit for trials including children 12 and up.
Why weren’t more children included in clinical trials?
Adults suffer with more severe symptoms of COVID-19 than children, so the focus was to get a vaccine created for adults first. The vaccine needed to be created quickly and involving children in clinical trials of any kind requires extra regulation and additional safety measures because they are more vulnerable than healthy adults.
What about herd immunity?
Children play a role in transmitting viruses because they have difficulty following guidelines for distancing and other measures. This is why children are vaccinated for influenza, Hepatitis A and B, and other infections. Vaccinating children typically helps us achieve herd immunity, but the COVID-19 vaccine is not recommended for children until more testing is done. This is why it’s so important for adults to get the vaccine.
When will children be included in clinical trials?
Moderna has started recruiting children age 12 and up. Other manufacturers of the vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson, intend to include children in upcoming clinical trials.
When will a vaccine be approved for children?
Immune systems differ at every age, so more data will need to be collected to evaluate the efficacy of the vaccine in children overall. This will take time.
What can I do to protect my child until a vaccine is ready?
Make sure your children know to maintain safe social distance from others, wear a mask in public and wash their hands often. Wearing a mask will continue to be important for families, even the adults who have had the vaccine. In time, we hope some of the public health measures like masking can stop, but until a large portion of the community has the vaccine, COVID-19 will continue to spread and masking is still necessary for now.