Recently, companies like Pfizer and Moderna have announced a COVID-19 vaccine that is proving to have over a 90% efficacy rate for adults. By the end of 2020, many are hopeful that the vaccine will become available, with the first wave of those eligible being frontline healthcare workers and patients in long-term care facilities who are considered high-risk. Healthy adults should expect to be eligible for the vaccine in the spring of 2021, with the hope of children being eligible possibly months later.
Just like the adult COVID-19 vaccine trials, data from child and adolescent COVID-19 vaccine trials will need to support the safety and efficacy of the vaccines before approval for that population.
Why will it take so long for children to be eligible?
A child’s immune system is different than an adult’s and must be specifically studied when exposed to a vaccine. The vaccine had to show good levels of efficacy in adults before considering starting trials on children. The reason for the extensive wait time for a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine is due to the lack of trials done on children up to this point. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech initially only recruited 16- and 17-year-olds. Then, in October, the companies received approval to enroll children as young as 12.
Now that a pediatric trial is underway for children ages 12-17, we should see more data coming through. As more companies start pediatric trials, we may even see trials become available for children under the age of 12. Once the vaccine for children is approved, it will take time to manufacture and distribute. While there is no guarantee, government officials are hopeful for a late 2021 vaccine for children.
Will it just be the same vaccine that a parent or adult will receive?
There is still more to learn about the vaccine when it comes to children. After further investigation of the vaccine on the pediatric population, there could be modifications to the dosage or formula.
Instead of traditional vaccines, which may use the virus itself, the COVID-19 vaccine will use a protein on the outside of the virus. This means the vaccine can’t cause COVID-19 in a person, because it’s not using the virus that causes the disease.
Should my child receive the vaccine?
Once a vaccine is approved for pediatric patients, it will be the most effective way of preventing the spread of COVID-19. While it was once believed that children were not susceptible to coronavirus, that has been proven false. Children can get the virus and can certainly play a role in the spread of it.
Ochsner will only recommend and administer vaccines that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has certified as safe and effective for all patients and employees, including our most vulnerable populations. The benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks of forgoing immunization for your child.
What should my child do until the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine is approved?
Aside from the vaccine, the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is through social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene and wearing a mask.
The CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 2 wear a facemask if you anticipate coming in contact with others. Those under the age of 2, people who have difficulty breathing, anyone who would have trouble taking the mask off by themselves, or anyone who is unconscious or incapacitated should not wear a facemask to avoid suffocation.
Coronavirus is spread via droplets that could get into your child’s nose or mouth, so proper hand hygiene is the best way to ward off germs. The easiest way for your child to remember how to properly wash hands, is by telling them to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, or count to 20, while scrubbing hands thoroughly with soap and clean water. They should wash their hands regularly after playing with others, touching commonly used surfaces, before and after eating and after going to the restroom.
Ochsner is committed to the safety and wellbeing of your child and will continue to closely monitor any new information about the COVID-19 vaccine. For more information, visit www.ochsner.org/vaccine.