As a pediatric infectious disease specialist, Dr. Amy Edwards has fielded a lot of questions from worried parents during the pandemic. As case numbers drop – among children, Covid-19 cases have fallen to levels not seen since October – the question she’s getting is: Do younger children really need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 when a shot becomes available?
Her answer is yes.
Experts say vaccinating young people is an integral part of protecting the broader community from Covid-19, and although serious disease among children is rare, they need protection, too. A CDC study released Friday detailed “troubling” recent data around Covid-19 hospitalizations among adolescents, and urged continued use of prevention measures.
“The truth of the matter is, kids wouldn’t have to get vaccinated if all the adults would,” said Edwards, who is the associate medical director of Pediatric Infection Control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.
“I think then you’d have so little community spread that it wouldn’t be a problem. However, we know that a huge chunk of adults aren’t going to get vaccinated, and that leaves some kids vulnerable, and that’s why they need the vaccine.”
Currently there are only 12 states where at least 70% of adults have at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine. It’s not clear if or when the United States will reach community immunity, but doctors say children – not only adults – will need to play a role, too.
“We really need to add another group of children to be vaccinated to come across that threshold to reach herd immunity,” said Dr. Claire Boogaard, a pediatrician and medical director of the Covid-19 vaccine program at Children’s National.
Everyone has the right to ask questions and “be thoughtful about this, especially when it comes to kids,” Boogaard said.
“I’m a mom of a three- and six-year-old, and frankly just knowing how devastating the illness can be medically, and also just how disruptive it can be socially for the kids, I can’t wait for my kids to get the vaccine, as long as it’s proven to be safe in their age group. I think it just gives them the freedom that they’ve all been patiently waiting for.”
They may not be waiting much longer.
The US Food and Drug Administration has already authorized the Pfizer vaccine for people who are 12 and older. Moderna and Pfizer have started testing vaccines in people ages 6 months to 11 years and Johnson & Johnson is currently testing its single-dose vaccine in people ages 12 to 17.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN’s New Day on Thursday that he’s cautiously optimistic some people younger than 12 will be able to be vaccinated by Thanksgiving, and children of all ages may be eligible by the end of the year.
More vaccinations mean more lives saved
Early research has shown that vaccination among adults might indirectly protect people in a household. A May preprint study in Finland found that the protection Covid-19 vaccines provided to unvaccinated members in a household wasn’t as effective as getting a vaccine, but it was “substantial.” A preprint study from Israel showed similar results.
Studies show most younger children don’t seem to be the source of infection with this novel coronavirus. Rather, when kids get sick with Covid-19, they typically get it after being exposed to an adult with the virus.