When will children be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Pfizer-BioNtech has announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is 100% effective in protecting children ages 12-15 against symptomatic cases of the disease, leaving parents to ask how soon they can get their children vaccinated.

The company, which released its results of drug trials via a news release, said it found no cases of the novel coronavirus in the more than 2,200 children who participated in the vaccine trials. In addition, there was no report of any severe reaction or side effect after the vaccine was administered.

The results of the drug trials have not been reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration, a process that will likely take several weeks.

The news is leading parents, anxious to have their children protected from the virus when they return to school and other activities, to ask when their child can get in line for a vaccination.

Dr. James Wood, a pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases, writes for The Conversation that while the news of Pfizer’s trial results are encouraging, it will be a while before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the use of the vaccine for those aged 12-15.

“If their (Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson) vaccines are shown to be safe and effective and regulators authorize them, kids 12 and up could be vaccinated before school starts in the fall,” Wood wrote.

“Realistically, young children probably won’t be eligible for the vaccine until late fall or winter at the earliest. Moderna announced in mid-March that it had started testing its vaccine in children ages 6 months to 11 years,” Wood said. “Pfizer said it is also starting testing in young children, but these trials take time.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, federal health officials agree on the timeline, saying that if vaccine trials on older children show great promise, as Pfizer’s has appeared to do, then junior-high and senior-high school students could get access to vaccines in the fall, followed by children of elementary-school age in early 2022.

“The first step in vaccine trials is to figure out the right dose,” Wood wrote.

“The companies want to find the lowest possible dose that is both safe and produces a target level of antibodies. For example, Moderna uses a 100-microgram dose in adults. It is testing three different doses for children under age 2 — 25, 50 and 100 micrograms — and two doses for children over age 2, at 50 and 100 micrograms.

“Once the company determines the optimal dose, it will launch a placebo-controlled trial to test its effectiveness, in which some children will get a placebo and some will get the vaccine,” Wood explained.

Some ask that if the vaccine works well and has few side effects in adults, why it will take several more months to get it into the arms of children.

“Children are not just small adults,” said pediatrician Dr. James Campbell of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “The younger you get, the higher the odds are that things could be different.”

If adults are vaccinated, particularly ones with conditions that make them susceptible to the virus, is there any rush or even a great need to vaccinate children?

“There’s no question: we do want to immunize children,” Drexel University pediatrics professor Dr. Sarah Long told The Associated Press.

The immunization would protect children, who can have a serious reaction to the virus and can spread it even if they don’t have symptoms, and would also move the country toward herd immunity. Herd immunity, or community immunity, is a point where so many people in an area have either been vaccinated or who have contracted a disease that a virus cannot find a new host and eventually dies out.

“It’s unlikely we could get community protection without immunizing children,” Long added. “This is the linchpin to getting everything back to some kind of normalcy.”

Dr. Wood’s comments were published on The Conversation website. The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

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