As we begin 2021, all eyes are on the newly approved COVID vaccine and the promise of a healthier year. Finally, supplies arrive; VCU Health immediately provides the vaccine to frontline health workers so they can safely continue care for community members in need.
As we are hopeful, we also have many questions about the timing, safety, and other aspects of receiving the new immunization.
So far, children and adolescents from 12 years of age in the US, Europe, or Israel are being vaccinated only with the Pfizer / Biotech preparation. In the case of Europe, the other three vaccines licensed for use in adults – Astrazeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson – are still undergoing studies to clarify whether they are also suitable for use.
The German virologist Felix Drexler, from the Charité University Clinic in Berlin, highlights that especially the messenger RNA vaccines, Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna, have shown high safety and efficacy when applied in minors. Still, there are also hopes placed in new vaccines: “Novavax’s, for example, which is based on the generation of proteins, could be very advantageous for use in children. Furthermore, its maintenance will be much easier, taking into account the Latin American context, because it can transport at refrigerator temperatures.”
Why is it still not possible to vaccinate those under twelve years of age?
The investigation into this is also ongoing. As long as there are no reliable results on efficacy and side effects in this age group, they still cannot be vaccinated. For now, Pfizer / BioNTech and Moderna continue to conduct clinical trials to see how their preparations work in children under 12 years of age. Pharmaceutical Pfizer has said that the vaccine for younger children could only be available by the end of the year or early 2022.
“We are taking great care to protect the little ones, so we are waiting for more studies. The best thing would be for a large part of adults to be vaccinated so as not to have to vaccinate minors. But for this we would need rates above 85 % of the adult population, which is not the case anywhere The main reason to vaccinate children, after learning that SARS-CoV-2 affects them less, is to prevent them from transmitting the virus to the unvaccinated elderly With this I do not want to minimize the consequences of infection in children”, explains Dr. Drexler.
What is the risk of the COVID-19 vaccine in children and adolescents?
In the United States, currently, about four million children and adolescents have already been vaccinated and no major complications have been reported. Therefore, there would have been no adverse events in Israel either. According to the virologist of the Charité, indeed, in the short term, everything seems quite safe, but it remains to be known if there are long-term effects.
“The good thing is that the current data, which is very recent, indicates that there is no problem in vaccinating children.” Says Dr. Drexler.
In this sense, the German expert recalls that also in adults in general, this risk is very low: “It should not be forgotten that the risk of inflammation of the heart muscle also appears due to infection with the virus itself. In addition, there is always a cost-benefit with a vaccine or any medicine”.
Should children be vaccinated?
In the United States, those 12 years and older can receive the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine without restriction. Many EU countries, such as France and Italy, do the same. The vaccination campaign for children and adolescents must begin two weeks before the next school year in Spain.
In Great Britain, outside the EU, the government wants to wait for the results of more studies before massively recommending the use of Pfizer / Biotech in children and adolescents, despite the fact that the country’s health authority has already approved the preparation for the said age group.
What are the risks if children are not vaccinated?
The risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 appears to be below. This could be due to the fact that, in general, “a child’s immune system is better able to face new infections because for many minor infections occur for the first time. But, I repeat, the infection can also bring serious consequences in some children”.
On the other hand, parents’ questions about vaccines are also due to the fact that their children can return to school after a year and a half of the pandemic. “I fully understand the doubts of parents. That is why we have to emphasize those parents and all the adults around them are vaccinated so that schools do not close again,” insists Dr. Drexler, emphasizing that, in schools, Millions of poor children in Latin America received the only good meal of the day.