Currently, Pfizer is authorized for use in kids age 16 and up, but expanding the vaccine authorization to the age group from 6th and 7th-grade students to high school sophomores will inoculate many millions of children against a virus that has become over-represented in kids since they can’t get vaccinated but adults can.
The authorization for kids 12 and up has been a long time coming. Pfizer has been studying the vaccine’s efficacy in kids and even released extremely promising results from adolescent trials showing the vaccine is super effective in kids 12-15.
Here’s what to know about the vaccine’s approval, the trial results, when it would be rolled out post-approval, and what it would do for the ever-elusive herd immunity.
The Vaccine Will Likely Be Approved Shortly — And The Trial Results Are Promising
A few weeks ago, Pfizer reported that the vaccine was at least as effective, if not more effective, in 12 to 15-year-old kids as it is in people 16 and up, based on data from a study in 2,260 kids age 12-15. The company also stated that the side effects that kids experienced from the vaccine were on par with what adults experience. By mid-April, they had asked the FDA for emergency approval to authorize the vaccine in kids. If approved quickly, 10 million children this age could be vaccinated before school starts in the fall.
As Pfizer waits for approval, more trials of the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy and safety are underway in different age groups, including a study of children who are six months old and up. Pfizer is expected to ask for emergency use authorization for children aged 2 to 11 in September. Moderna is holding similar studies for different age groups, as is Johnson & Johnson, though those vaccines are still only approved for adults age 18 and up.
That being said, Moderna’s big study of people 12 to 17 should have results soon. Having two vaccines on the market that are safe for kids who are in the 7th grade and up could tip the scales of herd immunity — or at least inoculate children, who are quickly becoming a large share of COVID-19 cases — against COVID-19 as they re-enter school buildings, summer camps, team sports, and more.
When Would It Be Rolled Out, If/When Approved?
Experts are suggesting the vaccine will be approved in a number of weeks, and, per The New York Times, an FDA spokesperson said the agency is “working to review this request as quickly and transparently as possible.”
Other reporting suggests the vaccine will be approved for adolescents by next week. If the vaccine is approved, it should be rolled out fairly quickly across the country as parents who are eager to get their children vaccinated do so. And at a time when almost half of American adults have still not been vaccinated — in no small part due to vaccine hesitancy — getting millions of more people inoculated against COVID-19 will be a valuable aid to fighting the disease and ending the pandemic.
But Would it Get Us to Herd Immunity?
More than half of adults in the U.S. have gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but as people slow down on getting vaccinated, some experts are concerned that the United States will never reach the herd immunity threshold. Dr. Fauci himself has suggested that herd immunity may not be viable, but that getting as many people vaccinated as possible will still make the virus less of a deadly threat.
Instead, COVID-19 could become a part of our lives, something that kills people and hospitalizes them, but not as much as at the beginning of the pandemic. And the vaccine will drive down those numbers.
All of that being said, there are even more innovations on the way. Many parents who got vaccinated will likely want their children to be vaccinated. Pfizer-BioNTech is also vying for the approval of an antiviral pill that will help people who are not hospitalized with COVID-19 get over it sooner (like Remdesivir, but not solely for hospitalized patients), which could help the virus be less deadly. Boosters for variants are being developed; yearly inoculations are being discussed.
But as variants — like the variant that could be causing the COVID surge in India’s in what can only be described as a humanitarian crisis, and the British B.1.1.7 variant, which is up to 60 percent more transmissible and is readily infecting children — take over, things will be shifting. So, getting vaccinated is more important than ever.