When will the COVID-19 vaccine be available for children?

Written by Craig Collison, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics

The COVID-19 vaccines are an important tool to slow the spread of COVID-19 and end the pandemic. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has provided emergency use authorization to Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer's vaccine is authorized for individuals ages 16 and up, and both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for ages 18 and up.

 

As more and more adults become vaccinated, one quarter of the population still has no vaccine available: kids. Many parents are wondering when children can get the vaccine—and, just like everything else associated with this pandemic, the answer is complicated.

Before COVID-19 vaccines are made available for younger teens and children, more research is needed. This is because children's immune systems are different from adults, and immune responses can differ at different ages.

Several pharmaceutical companies are currently doing clinical trials in adolescents or young children. Pfizer, which has been testing its vaccine in kids aged 12 to 15, recently announced results showing that its vaccine works very well at preventing COVID-19 in this age group. Moderna has been testing its vaccine in those aged 12 to 17, and this past month both companies began trials in children aged six months to 11 years. Johnson & Johnson recently announced plans to test its vaccine in young children and adolescents as well. Additional clinical trials will continue to focus on children and younger teens to ensure that these vaccines are safe and effective for these age groups.

The pharmaceutical companies began trials in adolescents first because their immune systems are most similar to those of adults. Starting with teenagers is good from a public health standpoint, too, because teens are more likely than younger kids to spread the virus and are also more likely to get seriously ill.

Ultimately, the timing of vaccine availability for children will depend on the results from clinical trials and the FDA’s approval process. Although the current research pace is promising, the clinical trial and approval process can take a while. There are strict protection and safety protocols for clinical trials for children. That said, we may be able to expect vaccines to be ready for adolescents aged 12 to 16 this summer, for five- to 11-year-olds by early 2022, and for babies and toddlers sometime after that.

Because most kids are at low risk for complications from COVID-19, the need for a pediatric vaccine for the disease may not seem pressing. But it is crucial to have vaccines available for children, not only to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but also to protect those young people who are high-risk.

 

We all look forward to the time when children can safely attend playdates and be with their friends. Until then, it’s important for us all to continue to take steps to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe by wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings, frequently washing hands, and getting vaccinated. These simple actions make a difference in stopping the spread of COVID-19.