Children are now thought to be a less vulnerable population for COVID-19. Not only do they effectively handle the infection, they also appeared to shed less virus and therefore tend to infect fewer people. The CDC has even indicated that elementary schools should be reopened without vaccinations of students as they do not provide high risk for spreading the SARS-CoV-2.
Because of this, many people were surprised yesterday when Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that vaccines for children as young as first graders could be authorized by September.
First, it was interesting that Dr. Fauci would be targeting low risk children for vaccination. This is especially true since we are struggling to get seriously at-risk individuals in elderly populations and with medical issues vaccinated. In addition, for childhood vaccination to happen by the start of the next school year, more clinical trials need to be done in children to prove the vaccine is safe and effective.
And the clinical trials that need to be done in children are no small effort. Currently, Pfizer is testing young people from age 20 to 16, with subsequent trials to test individuals 9 to 12 and then 6 to 9. This means three sets of clinical trials need to be accomplished by next fall to vaccinate elementary school students. You cannot start with the youngest children as they are thought to be the most at risk!
You might ask why there is such a focus on immunizing young people given that they almost uniformly survive COVID-19 without serious side effects. The real issue focuses on protecting the entire population.
Children under the age of 16 make up approximately 25% of the world’s population. If they are not vaccinated against COVID-19, they serve as a source of infection that could lead to mutant viral strains that could eventually spread to adults and at-risk individuals.
So, unlike last June when children were thought to be highly susceptible to infectious problems from COVID-19, they aren’t at risk themselves but do still serve as a reservoir that would prevent herd immunity from ever developing.
Unfortunately, vaccine manufacturers aren’t addressing childhood infection quickly enough to start immunizations in the fall. While at that time there should be enough vaccine to immunize the entire population, there may not be approval for children. Moderna has not started a trial in children and doesn’t expect to until early 2022.
If this issue is not addressed, the potential development of variants will continue.