When can kids get the COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Mon, 29 Mar 2021 13:53:30 GMT
  • 548

Do kids really need to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The short answer is yes. A lot of studies have shown that COVID-19 isn’t as severe in children, particularly younger kids – but that doesn’t mean kids aren’t at risk of getting infected and potentially spreading the virus.

Children under 12 who get COVID-19 do tend to have mild illnesses or no symptoms, while teenagers seem to have responses somewhere between what adults and younger kids have experienced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that teens were about twice as likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 as children ages 5-11.

Researchers are still trying to understand why we’re seeing these differences between older and younger kids. Behavior probably plays a part. Teenagers are more likely to engage in social or group activities, and they may or may not be wearing masks. Immune differences and biologic factors may also play a role. Non-SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses are common in children, often resulting in upper respiratory infection. Is their frequent exposure to other coronaviruses helping protect them from severe COVID-19? That is one hypothesis. We know younger kids’ immune responses in general are different from adults, and likely play a role in protection.

Are kids spreading the virus?

In a setting like a school where mask-wearing and social distancing are enforced, young kids seem to not spread the virus very much when the rules and guidelines are being followed. One CDC review found little difference in community cases in counties with elementary schools open and those with remote learning.

If precautions aren’t being taken, children infected with the coronavirus very well could spread it to adults. What isn’t clear yet is how great that risk is.

To keep schools as safe as possible, continuing schoolwide mask and social distancing policies will be important. With teenagers in particular, mask rules can’t hinge on whether the person has been vaccinated or not. Until herd immunity within the whole community is at a good level, social distancing and masking is still going to be the recommendation.

So, when can kids get vaccinated?

Right now, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one in the U.S. authorized for teenagers as young as 16. Before kids under 16 can be vaccinated, clinical trials need to be completed in thousands of young volunteers to assess the vaccines’ safety and efficacy.

Vaccine manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer both have trials underway with adolescents and expect to have data by late spring or early summer. If their vaccines are shown to be safe and effective, kids 12 and up could be vaccinated before school starts in the fall.

Realistically, young children probably won’t be eligible for the vaccine until late fall or winter at the earliest. Moderna just announced on March 16 that it has started testing the vaccine in children ages 6 months to 11 years. Pfizer hasn’t reached that stage yet, and these trials take time.

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