While drug companies and governments around the world are in an all-out sprint to develop a coronavirus vaccine for adults, the race to identify one that is safe and effective for children lags far behind, meaning America’s youngest may not be vaccinated until late next year, health experts told ABC News.
Despite recent evidence that children may play a larger role in the community spread of COVID-19, experts say the delay is appropriate, because a vaccine should be tested in adults first to ensure it’s safe and effective before being tested in children.
“We wouldn’t start injecting five-year-olds before we knew what this vaccine did in adults,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.
“Kids are not little adults, they have very different immune systems, and you might need to have a completely different kind of vaccine for kids,” said Dr. Anita McElroy, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “And we’re just so at this point so far behind the power curve, we’re at the very beginning of any kind of vaccine against COVID [so] that to think we could just take one that works in adults and put it in kids and assume it’s going to work fine is actually a foolish thing to do.”
Dr. John Brownstein, a Harvard Medical School professor and ABC News contributor, said there are simply “a lot of things we have to understand” from dosage to learning from safety studies, “so those take time before you can start ramping up and looking at a broader population of kids.”
Still, in a letter to federal health officials this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for the inclusion of children in research on potential COVID-19 vaccines, saying that “beyond the direct impact of infection, children have been greatly affected by the pandemic.”
“Children must be included in vaccine trials to best understand any potential immune responses and/or unique safety concerns,” AAP President Dr. Sally Goza wrote.
Dr. Steven Joffe, a professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, said that currently, “none of the major trials in the U.S. are enrolling kids.” The exception is Pfizer, which recently announced it would expand its trials but only to enroll 16- and 17-year-olds.
Three vaccine groups told ABC News that they plan to schedule pediatric trials once the vaccine for adults is rolled out. Dr. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said in an interview with WTOP in mid-September that adults who are in the high-risk category could be getting a vaccine in December or at the beginning of the year.
Johnson & Johnson, one of the groups that entered the late-stage trial testing its adult coronavirus vaccine, is planning to include studies evaluating children, but will only move forward after data from adults is analyzed, according to a spokesperson for the company.
Moderna, a Massachusetts based biotechnology company, is hoping