While the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine started out rocky, the past few weeks have brought encouraging developments. According to the CDC, more than 15 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, and the country is currently administering an average of 2.6 million shots a day. After declaring earlier this month that all adults would be eligible for vaccination by May 1, President Biden accelerated that timeline, announcing yesterday that 90 percent of adults will be eligible by April 19.
But one big question that remains is when kids will be able to receive the vaccine. Currently, none of the vaccines available in the U.S. have been approved for use in children under 16.
Here’s what we know about when kids will be able to get vaccinated.
Vaccine trials for children are happening now.
The reason that the vaccines haven’t yet been approved for children is that they haven’t yet been thoroughly studied in children. According to the New York Times, kids of different ages can have different responses to vaccines, and it’s standard practice to test older children first to evaluate their response and potentially modify the dosage. Those studies are happening now, with Pfizer and Moderna conducting clinical trials to assess the efficacy and safety of their vaccines in children 12 and older.
The early results look promising: On March 31, Pfizer reported that its trial of kids between ages 12 and 15 found that the vaccine was 100 percent effective and that participants did not suffer any abnormal side effects. Now, the company plans to submit the results to the FDA and request the agency expand its emergency-use authorization so that kids between 12 and 15 can be administered the two-dose vaccine. (Moderna’s trial for this age group is still underway.)
In addition, both Pfizer and Moderna have recently begun studies in children under 12; Moderna’s trial includes babies as young as 6 months. And Johnson & Johnson has announced plans to test its vaccine in children 12 and older, immediately followed by studies with younger children, including infants and newborns.
Teenagers will likely be able to get vaccinated this fall.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease specialist, recently said that teens can expect to receive vaccines later this year. “We project that high school students will very likely be able to be vaccinated by the fall term, maybe not the very first day, but certainly in the early part of the fall,” he said.
Younger kids probably won’t get a vaccine until 2022.
Fauci also said that elementary-school students probably won’t start getting vaccinated until the beginning of 2022, once clinical trials have been completed. A spokesperson for Pfizer told the Times that the company expects to have results from its trial of children under 12 by the second half of 2021, and to start vaccinating younger children in early 2022. It’s not yet clear when the youngest children, including infants, will be vaccinated, but, if all goes well, presumably after that.
We need kids to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
In general, kids are a low-risk group for COVID, and therefore also a lower priority to get the vaccine than adults. But it’s still important that they get vaccinated as soon as possible. Though most kids do not get very sick from COVID, some do, and they also can spread the virus.
And experts say that if we hope to reach herd immunity — the point at which enough of the population is inoculated against COVID to stop its spread — we’ll need children, who make up a quarter of the U.S. population, to be vaccinated, too.
“It’s unlikely we could get community protection without immunizing children,” Drexel University pediatrics professor Dr. Sarah Long told the AP. “This is the lynchpin to getting everything back to some kind of normalcy.”
This post has been updated.