As eligibility of COVID-19 vaccine widens, promising news for kids

Just as eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine widens to include everyone 16 and older, we are getting promising news about the vaccine's effectiveness on kids much young than that. 

"This is a day that we’ve all been waiting for – at least on the pediatric side of things," said Dr. James Conway, Medical Director of UW Health Immunization Programs.

On Wednesday, March 31, Pfizer announced its vaccine is not only safe but effective in kids ages 12 to 15. Right now, the vaccine is only authorized for those 16 and old. That could soon change.

"I think this really opens up a whole new chapter of a story we are all writing still and gets us toward better herd immunity middle and high school kids being able to do better in schools," Dr. Conway said.

The doctor said immunization is possible this summer. He said there have been few reported side effects.

"One of the things we still have to worry about is even though on their own they do ok with the disease in most circumstances – there’s a wild card, sometimes they don’t," Dr. Conway said. "But as these mutant variants start to enter and transmit within communities – we just don’t want to give them fertile soil to continue to spread."

Conway said this age group tends to lend itself to transmission -- which is why he still stresses mask-wearing and social distancing.

"Vaccines are really an 'and' – as we add in vaccines, for the time being, especially since we are still watching to see what these variants do – I think people still need to be cautious," the doctor said.

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Pfizer is expected to ask regulators in Europe for emergency use of the vaccine for 12-year-olds and up in the coming weeks. Moderna's study of 12 to 17-year-olds is expected soon. The FDA has allowed both companies to study the vaccine in children as young as 6 months old.

"The data they’ve given us so far is that they are extraordinarily effective and work just as well as they do in adults," Conway said.

Studies show children represent about 13% of COVID-19 vases in the U.S.

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