SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Children under 16 have the longest wait to get their COVID-19 vaccines, with adults more likely than kids to spread the coronavirus or become severely infected.
Kids under 16 will also have to wait longer because, at this point, scientists know significantly more about vaccines' effectiveness and impacts on adults.
“There are no vaccines against COVID-19 currently authorized for children under 16 years of age,” Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease physician and expert at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, said on Friday. “But there are several vaccine manufacturers that are well underway in clinical trials.”
Fitzgibbons says data from those clinical trials involving children could be available starting this April. If approvals go smoothly, she says kids under 16 could get vaccinated as soon as this summer.
Adolescents may have first priority in the youngest vaccine cohort, Fitzgibbons explains, as older kids typically seem to respond more to COVID-19 infection than younger children.
“The way that teenagers seem to manifest this infection, it looks a lot more like the illness that we’re seeing perhaps in people in their 20s, than in younger children,” Fitzgibbons said.
Dr. David Fisk, an infectious disease physician and expert working at both Sansum Clinic and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, agrees.
“The immune system of a 16-year-old is actually much closer to that of an 80-year-old, than it is to that of a two-year-old,” Fisk said.
Fisk points out that the current evaluation of vaccines in children may find that while adolescents have more developed immune systems than infants or toddlers, that also makes them potentially more vulnerable to vaccine side effects.
That being said, both Fisk and Fitzgibbons are highly encouraged by the minimal side effects they've seen from adults taking their vaccines.
"From my perspective, the COVID vaccines that we have have proven to be extraordinarily safe with very, very low rates of complications since the vaccines have been released," Fisk said.
Fisk predicts that trend will translate to children under 16.
“I anticipate that we’re gonna see teenagers and tweens do very well in terms of tolerating the vaccine and getting protection from the vaccine,” he said. “And infants, I also think will tolerate it quite well, but we don’t yet know, have enough information, to predict how much protection they’ll have from it.”
Until children can be widely vaccinated, Fisk reiterated the importance of educators and those spending time with children to get their vaccines.
Fitzgibbons predicts schools will continue to see safety measures like masks and distancing through this year, but that students and teachers will be able to more easily adapt to them and classrooms will feel "more like 2019" than 2020.
As a parent, Fitzgibbons knows that many will have questions in the coming months about their kids and COVID-19 vaccines.
"My main recommendation to every parent, who like I will be facing some of these choices, is to educate yourself," she said. "To learn and become informed.
"If you asked me today, 'Do I know that my kids are gonna get the vaccine?' I would say no, because I haven't seen the data yet. And I'm so looking forward to seeing it. But when the data is available to you, when you have expert opinion that you’re able to review that you trust, please do. Please inform yourself for the health of your family and the health of your kids."
For more information on COVID-19, testing, vaccines and more, you can visit Sansum Clinic's dedicated COVID-19 website.