Since the start of the pandemic, questions have flourished surrounding the role children might play in contracting and spreading COVID-19. And yet, as the rollout of vaccinations against the coronavirus continues to ramp up, one group — kids — has been conspicuously absent from any of the priority groups. Although children represent a small but significant percentage of coronavirus cases, a few of those patients have experienced some of the most severe COVID-19 symptoms. Plus, research has shown children are responsible for at least some of the virus’s spread. So, why aren’t kids getting vaccinated yet?
Coronavirus vaccines have not yet been authorized for children younger than 16.
The answers have a lot to do with how vaccines are developed and tested in general, and the fact that neither of the vaccines currently being used in the US has been approved for kids under 16. But there’s also a particular quirk with this coronavirus that actually helps — namely, that children tend to have a higher rate of recovery from COVID-19 than almost any other age group. Plus, children aren’t the only group specifically being told to hold off on getting coronavirus vaccines (keep reading for who else should skip the vaccine line).
Here, we’ll look into which companies are currently testing their vaccines in children and try to get a sense of when those vaccines might be authorized and distributed. This story isn’t intended to serve as medical advice.
When will a coronavirus vaccine for kids be released?
Although Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is currently only authorized for use in people aged 16 and older, that’s set to change when results come back from the companies’ clinical trials. As of late January, Pfizer’s trial is now fully enrolled, including children age 12 to 15. The company declined to provide an estimated timeline of when research will likely wrap up, but in general, clinical trials conducted in the US have moved along faster than anticipated, due in part to the country’s high rate of infection.
For its vaccine, which is approved for adults 18 and older, Moderna has also begun clinical trials focusing on ages 12 through 17. So far, however, the company has run into some trouble finding enough volunteers to fill its study. Parents can volunteer online to allow their adolescent children to participate, but Moderna says only about 800 of the 3,000 or so volunteers needed per month have signed up.
Despite Moderna’s setbacks, pediatricians expect vaccines for adolescents to be authorized sometime this year. Younger children, however, may have much longer to wait. Regarding trials for children under 12, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told Business Insider in January, “We have to age de-escalate and start at a lower dose. So we should not anticipate clinical data in 2021, but more in 2020.”
Why can’t kids get a coronavirus vaccine?
In a nutshell, the vaccines haven’t been authorized for kids because they haven’t been specifically tested on children yet. That’s to be expected — vaccines are typically tested first in adults before researchers begin tests in children, once the drug has been found to be relatively safe among grown-ups. So far, of the several dozen COVID-19 vaccines under development, including Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, none has yet been tested in children aged 12 or younger.
Another factor is that COVID-19 seems to mostly spare children from the worst outcomes. A CDC report from September counted only 121 children among the 190,000 people who had died so far in the US from coronavirus.
Other research has found that children catch and spread coronavirus about half as much as adults, though they are still considered vectors in the spread of COVID-19, especially among high-risk populations. For example, a report from the CDC this summer highlighted a Georgia summer camp in which coronavirus ran rampant, resulting in over 250 kids and young adults testing positive for COVID-19.
If you’re curious what the experience of getting a COVID-19 vaccine is like, check out these reports from CNET’s Eric Mack on how it went getting his first vaccine dose and then his second one three weeks later. Just remember, even if you get vaccinated, it’s important to continue wearing masks and social distancing until experts give the all-clear.