While the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine started out sluggish and rocky, the U.S. has since surmounted many early supply and distribution hurdles, and visions of a post-pandemic future are starting to come into focus. According to the CDC, more than 46 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 35 percent have been fully vaccinated. However, a significant portion of the population remains ineligible: kids. Currently, only one of the vaccines available in the U.S. has been approved for use in children under 16 — though, if all goes accordingly, that could change in the coming weeks.
Here’s what we know about when kids will be able to get vaccinated.
The FDA has authorized a vaccine for 12-to-15-year-olds.
On March 31, Pfizer reported that its trial of kids between ages 12 and 15 found the vaccine to be 100 percent effective, without any abnormal side effects among participants. The FDA then began preparing to expand its emergency-use authorization so that kids in this age group could be administered the two-dose vaccine. On May 10, the agency granted authorization, and on May 12, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee will meet to make its recommendations for the 12-to-15 bracket. With the committee’s green light, vaccinations would be able to move ahead immediately.
Vaccine trials for children are happening now.
The reason the vaccines weren’t approved for children at the same time as adults is that they hadn’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 have been happening in recent weeks, with Pfizer and Moderna conducting clinical trials to assess the efficacy and safety of their vaccines in babies as young as 6 months.
While Pfizer’s trials have been promising, Moderna — currently authorized for people age 18 and up — is still studying its vaccine’s effects on adolescents between ages 12 and 17. It is expected to release its results in coming weeks. In addition, both Pfizer and Moderna have been studying children under 12. 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.
Younger kids probably won’t get a vaccine until later this year or earlier next year.
In March, Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease specialist, said that elementary-school students probably wouldn’t start getting vaccinated until the beginning of 2022, once clinical trials have been completed. Around that same time, a spokesperson for Pfizer told the Times that the company expected 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.
However, it now appears that kids between the ages of 2 and 11 may be eligible even sooner. According to CNN, on May 4, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told investors that the company expects to apply for emergency-use authorization for this age bracket in September.
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.
To reach herd immunity — the point at which enough of the population is inoculated against the coronavirus to stop its spread — we would need children, who make up a quarter of the U.S. population, to be vaccinated too. And even though many experts now say they don’t believe we’ll reach herd immunity in the U.S. because of vaccine hesitancy and highly transmissible variants, vaccinating kids is nevertheless crucial to stop the spread of COVID.
“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.