COVID-19 (COronaVirus Disease 2019) has become one of the most serious public health crises in over a century. Modern medicine has done its best to rapidly and safely produce a number of vaccines for COVID-19 to protect the population from this potentially dangerous novel coronavirus.
At this time, three vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) have been approved for emergency use by the United States Food & Drug Administration for adults and teenagers 16 years and older. As of this writing, the FDA has not yet formulated a recommendation for children between the ages of 12 and 16. With regard to the youngest children, clinical trials are currently being conducted for those six months through 12 years old, with results and a recommendation expected in the Fall or Winter of 2021.
A growing body of research has shown that these new vaccines are remarkably safe and effective. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages adults and older teenagers to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available in your area.
Parents often ask if the vaccines currently available are safe for pregnant or lactating women. Not only has the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) determined that the vaccine is safe and effective for pregnant and lactating women, but also that immunization of the mother can confer passively acquired protective levels of antibody to the unborn or nursing infant. The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), therefore, recommends that pregnant or lactating women receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available.
COVID-19 Clinical Trials For Children
Clinical trials need to be performed and completed with verifiable data before COVID-19 vaccines become available for younger teens and children. This meticulous process ensures that the vaccines in question are truly safe and effective for all age groups.
It’s important to note that children are not just miniature adults. Their immune systems and biological systems are still developing; it is not safe to assume that the same vaccine will have the same effect on a child as it does for an adult. Once clinical trials have been completed and the data has been published, the American Academy of Pediatrics will carefully review it before making vaccine recommendations for children and adolescents under the age of 16.
Will A Child-Safe COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available By The Start Of The 2021-22 School Year?
With clinical trials underway or being scheduled to start soon for children under the age of 16 it is still not clear if a vaccine will be available for elementary, middle school, and junior high school-aged children. It may be possible for a safe COVID-19 vaccine to start rolling out in time to get some children vaccinated before the start of the 2021-22 school year; more likely, the vaccine will be available in the fall and winter.
Will Schools Require A COVID-19 Vaccination For In-Person Attendance?
Once a vaccine is approved for children, public health institutions like the CDC and the AAP, will issue recommendations for how the COVID-19 vaccine can be phased into a child’s vaccination schedule. Ultimately, it is the state governments or local jurisdictions, and not national organizations, that determine whether a particular vaccine is required for school attendance. Some private institutions have already started to require vaccination to attend events (ie, in sports arenas) or use resources (for example, airline flying). Rutgers University in New Jersey and other colleges now require vaccination against COVID-19 to attend in person classes during the fall 2021 semester.
Currently, most states require a child to have the following vaccinations before attending school:
- Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine and Pertussis vaccine (DTaP or Tdap)
- Hepatitis B vaccine.
- Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR)
- Polio vaccine
- Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccine
- New Jersey also requires the Meningococcal vaccine at age 11 years.
A child who has not had these vaccinations, or an acceptable exemption, generally cannot attend public school in person. It is probable that at least some states will make a COVID-19 vaccination part of their public school attendance regulations once a child-safe vaccine has been made available to school-age children.
Keeping Your Children Up To Date On Their Vaccination Schedule
With the COVID-19 pandemic far from being over, a lot of parents are putting off treatment for minor ailments and non-life-threatening conditions. While you might be concerned about exposing your child to COVID-19 by taking them out, it’s important to make sure that they receive the necessary care they need to grow up healthy and strong.
This includes making sure that your children are receiving their vaccinations on schedule and in accordance with the CDC and AAP guidelines.
You can trust that clinicians are working hard to clean and sanitize all clinical areas and that protocols have been put in place to greatly reduce the presence of COVID-19 in all patient settings. This also includes increased time between appointments, social distancing practices, mask requirements, and frequent sanitation procedures.
Can Children Get A COVID-19 Test?
Not all pharmacies and other testing locations will test children for COVID-19. In some locations, your best option to have your child tested for COVID-19 is to schedule an appointment with their pediatrician.
To test for COVID-19, a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician will first don the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to obtain a specimen for testing. The tester will use a long swab to take a sample from the back of the nose. This nasopharyngeal swab will then be sent to a lab for prompt testing. In some cases, oral swabs or saliva might also be sent for testing.
While waiting for the COVID-19 test results, the child and all exposed family members will need to remain in-home quarantine, unless the testing is being done as a routine requirement for sports or other participation.
Is COVID-19 Life-Threatening For Children?
While otherwise healthy children seem to be less affected by COVID-19 than adults, they can still become infected with the virus and spread the virus to others. To date, approximately 14% of all cases of COVID-19 have occurred in children less than 18 years old, though these numbers have increased recently. Children account for 1-3% of the total hospitalizations, and fewer than 1% of the total deaths.
Some children are more likely to develop severe symptoms of complications from COVID-19. These include children suffering from obesity, asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease, sickle cell disease, immunocompromised states, or infants less than one year. Occasionally, even an otherwise completely healthy child can develop significant severe symptoms from COVID-19. Some children have developed a rare but serious condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome following an initial COVID-19 infection.
After evaluating data from children in schools, it was determined by the CDC that it is safe for most children to return to school in person. Most teachers are now vaccinated against COVID-19, or will be by the start of the next academic year. Children not yet vaccinated should continue to wear masks while indoors and at school, and should maintain a safe social distance from other students where possible, but especially while indoors.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children over the age of 16 receive a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible. In the meantime, we can hope that clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine for younger children prove fruitful.
The best-case scenario is that one or more of the current COVID-19 vaccines approved for adults will also prove safe and effective for children under the age of 16. If none of the current adult vaccines are cleared for children, the timetable for a COVID-19 child-safe vaccine could be prolonged while a new vaccine is developed.