What could complicate the quick arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine to protect kids

Work to produce COVID-19 vaccines is moving ahead at warp speed for adults, but it’s unclear when manufacturers will turn their attention to kids.

“Some vaccine manufacturers have committed to doing the testing in children, but not really that timeline yet,” Children’s National Hospital pediatrician Dr. Linda Fu said.

When vaccine testing on children does begin, Fu said that just like what’s happening with adults, there shouldn’t be any shortcuts.

“It’s so important to have separate testing in children, because children’s bodies are very different; even though they may look like small adults, their immune systems react to things differently,” Fu said.

While influenza vaccinations, for example, are recommended for babies as young as 6 months, initial medical trials and testing for a COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t start there. Fu expects it will proceed gradually, with initial doses being given to teenagers.

“Hopefully the reactions will not be very different than those who are just a few years older as adults,” Fu said. “And, as they see that this is safe, then they will test different doses and then gradually move to the younger age groups.”

If there’s any question about safety, Fu said the trials would be suspended while data is evaluated.

“The processes for testing are done with safety in mind,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, is urging federal oversight agencies to support timely, but safe, development of COVID-19 vaccines for children based on trials that include them, to best understand any potential unique immune responses and/or unique safety concerns related to kids.

Emphasizing that “methodical does not mean slow,” AAP also counseled against one or more vaccines being licensed or available under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) without appropriate data first being collected on the safety, tolerability, dose and regimen for children.

“Unfortunately, fear, mistrust and misinformation about a potential SARS-CoV-2 vaccine (are) being spread from a vocal, well-established, and growing anti-vaccination movement,” the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in a recent letter sent to the heads of U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Americans must have trust and confidence in the processes by which these vaccines are being tested for both safety and efficacy, and in the transparency of the scientific basis for licensure and recommendations for use,” the letter stated.

Fu agrees.

“Parents need to feel comfortable giving their child vaccine or taking a vaccine themselves. So if there are legitimate concerns, then that has to be aired and everybody has to be able to make an informed choice,” Fu said.

She believes it’s the job of people in public health and in the media to vet the available information and make sure it’s accurate and presents a full picture.

“Nobody wants to be deceived, either through outright misinformation but also from lack of access to information,” Fu said. “So, I think transparency is really key for making sure we have a high level of uptake” of the vaccine to develop society’s herd immunity.

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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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