Children Vaccine COVID Vaccine

When will the COVD vaccine be available to kids?

Return to daily life in the COVID-19 pandemic hinges on children getting vaccinated.

The effects of COVID-19 have been extreme for children, parents, and teachers. School closures across the country — 55.1 million students affected in 124,000 public and private schools, at the peak of the pandemic — have impacted lives, interrupted learning, forced work-from-home arrangements, required parents to learn how to homeschool on the fly, and challenged educators to make learning relevant when they can’t be in the same room with their students. 

Return to normal life hinges on the COVID-19 vaccine, who gets it, and when. To date, three vaccines have been approved for emergency use by the Centers for Disease Control: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson. 

Children are last in line for the vaccine

The priority list puts children last in line to receive the vaccine. Why?

There are several reasons. 

  • Since the beginning of the pandemic, vaccine priority has been assigned to healthcare workers, essential workers, and individuals at high risk due to underlying health conditions. Families who include someone in one of these groups can also get the vaccination. Families who don’t fit this criteria may have to wait until spring of 2021. For children under 16, the wait may be a few months longer, even as late as fall 2021. However, teens 16+ who are at high risk due to preexisting health conditions or who are essential workers may be closer to the front of the line.  
  • Vaccine development takes time. In normal times (if anyone can remember back that far), it takes as long as 10 – 15 years to research, develop, test, trial, approve, and license a vaccine. The speed with which the first set of vaccines were created and put into distribution in late 2020 gives the impression that this can happen essentially in the same timeline as any consumer goods manufacturing process. That rate of speed is, in fact, highly unusual in this sector. And once the vaccine is developed, distribution presents another set of logistics with its own time frame. 
  • Children are not legally able to consent to the vaccine on their own. Parents must consent on their behalf, both for participation in trials and for vaccination itself. Although this constitutes a layer of protection for this vulnerable group, it also means that vaccine development for children will take more time. 
  • Kids’ immune systems are different from those of adults, and are in a constant state of flux as they develop. Dr. Frank Esper, a specialist in pediatric infectious disease at the Cleveland Clinic, says, “Children’s immune systems are growing up just as they are. We often split kids up by age groups and stages. We can’t just say all kids’ immune systems are the same at any given age.” The wide variation in childrens’ immune responses  needs to be taken into account in the process of vaccine development. 

Why can’t children receive the same vaccine as adults?

Kids have certain protective factors in the form of natural antibodies that are more agile and ready to respond to environmental threats. This makes them less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19, but it doesn’t remove the risk that they may transmit the virus to others. Therefore, it is important for them to be vaccinated, but the vaccines for young children and infants need to go through more extensive trials before they can be determined to be safe. 

Pfizer has a vaccine that has been approved for teens 16 and over, and Moderna has one that is authorized for use in those 18 and over. Both companies are currently conducting clinical vaccine trials for children as young as 12. 

The results of these trials are eagerly anticipated. 

“Both adults and children will need to be vaccinated for things to return to some sort of normalcy,” says Dr. Esper. 

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