James D. Campbell, MD, MS, FAAP
Vaccines are our best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Three vaccines currently are available for adults, and one also can be given to children age 12 and older. Vaccines for children age 5 and up may be authorized soon, and clinical trials are now underway in children as young as six months old.
Research shows these new vaccines are remarkably effective and safe. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges children and adults to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they can. The vaccines are especially important now with the rise in cases caused by the Delta variant of the virus. This strain is more contagious, spreading at alarming rates and infecting more children.
Clinical trials for children
Before COVID-19 vaccines become available for younger children, clinical trials need to be completed. This is to ensure they are safe and effective for these age groups. Children are not little adults; we can’t just assume a vaccine will have the same effect on a child as it does for someone older. Once this information is available, the AAP will review it and make vaccine recommendations for children and adolescents.
What about booster shots?
Some adolescents and adults who got two doses of the mRNA COVID vaccines and have weakened immune systems, can now get a third dose of vaccine. The additional dose may help them develop as much protection as possible against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The third dose is authorized for those who meet one of the following criteria:
- are undergoing active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
- received an organ transplant and taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
- have hereditary or genetic conditions that cause moderate or severe immunodeficiency
- have advanced or untreated HIV infection
- are taking high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may dampen their immune system response
A third dose also may be authorized soon as a “booster shot” for anyone 18 and older who received mRNA vaccines, not just those who are immunocompromised.
Are COVID-19 vaccines required for school entry?
Once a vaccine is approved, health authorities, including the CDC and the AAP, recommend when and how children should get it. However, each state’s government decides which vaccines are required for school entry.
In the meantime, make sure your children are caught up on their vaccinations against measles, influenza, whooping cough, and any others that your pediatrician recommends.
One thing is certain: COVID-19 vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death for hundreds of millions of U.S. adults and adolescents who’ve received them already We look forward to the day when younger children can get the vaccines, too, so they can spend time with friends, travel with their families, and enjoy their communities safely.
James D. Campbell, MD, MS, FAAP, a pediatric infectious disease specialist based in Maryland, serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases.