A COVID-19 vaccine probably won’t be ready for young schoolchildren until 2022, the country’s top infectious disease expert has said.
In a recent White House press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, walked back his comments from a ProPublica interview, published Feb. 11, in which he said he was hopeful that children as young as 1st grade would be able to start getting vaccinated in the fall.
Other experts in infectious disease and pediatrics had said that timeline was overly optimistic. In particular, the American Academy of Pediatrics has raised concerns that there has not been enough urgency among vaccine developers in getting trials done for children under 16.
In a White House press briefing Friday, Fauci said it was unlikely there would be enough data from vaccine trials to approve a COVID-19 vaccine for elementary-age children until the first quarter of next year.
The new prediction is more in line with what other health experts have been saying.
However, Fauci said it is quite possible that a vaccine could be ready for approval for older adolescents in the fall, although not necessarily at the start of the school year.
“It is highly likely that sometime in the fall we will have data that will give us the capability of saying the safety and comparable efficacy in children 12 to 17, 18 years old,” he said. “Again, the final decisions we always leave to the FDA. I’m trying to give you a road map of what likely will happen.”
Other experts have told EdWeek that they think a vaccine could be approved for middle and high school students in the fall, although they caution that just because a vaccine is approved doesn’t mean it will be widely available.
Currently, some teenagers can get the two vaccines given emergency authorization so far by the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccine developed by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and the German company BioNTech was approved for ages 16 and up. The vaccine created by U.S. biotechnology company Moderna has been approved for ages 18 and up.
However, because higher-risk groups such as the elderly, the immunocompromised, and frontline health-care workers are being prioritized in the initial phases of states’ rollouts, it’s unlikely that 16- to 19-year-olds will be getting widely vaccinated any time soon, unless they are immunocompromised.
Vaccine trials in children are done first in older age brackets, eventually working down to infants. Pfizer and Moderna are currently studying their vaccines in children 12 and older. Pfizer has said it plans to start trials for children ages 5 to 11 in the first half of 2021.
Developing a COVID-19 vaccine for children is more complicated than simply lowering the dosage because children’s immune systems are different from adults. The vaccines that have been approved in the United States do not use a live virus, but rather genetic material that triggers an immune response in the body. Children’s immune systems operate differently than those of adults.