Adults and children as young as five years old can already get COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, but parents of babies and small children have been wondering when their children will be offered the same protection.
Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has made a hopeful—though far from certain—prediction. For children six months to four years old, he thinks the vaccine will be ready sooner rather than later. “Hopefully within a reasonably short period of time, likely the beginning of next year in 2022, in the first quarter of 2022, it will be available to them,” Dr. Fauci told Insider. He quickly added a caveat, saying he “can’t guarantee it, you’ve got to do the clinical trial.”
Vaccine trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for children under the age of five have already begun. Companies will be required to submit their trial results to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for evaluation, just as they did for the other age groups. According to NPR, Pfizer-BioNTech, which got a head start on trials for younger children, said in September that results could be ready “as soon as the fourth quarter of this year.” The FDA will then decide whether to grant the vaccines emergency use authorization.
There is evidence that babies born to mothers who were vaccinated while pregnant may already have some level of SARS-CoV-2 antibody protection. “In numerous studies of vaccinated moms, antibodies were found in the umbilical cord blood of babies and in the mother’s breast milk,” Linda Eckert, M.D., a physician and member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) Immunization, Infectious Disease, and Public Health Preparedness Expert Work Group, previously told SELF. However, it is unclear how long that protection will last.
While children are less likely than adults to become seriously ill from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that it is still possible. According to the CDC, children who contract COVID-19 may develop serious, potentially fatal multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), in which vital organs such as the heart or brain become inflamed. According to the Mayo Clinic, babies under the age of one are at a higher risk due to their developing immune systems and smaller airways, and children with underlying conditions are also at a higher risk for severe illness. Even children who are only mildly ill can spread the virus to others.
While we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine option for babies and very young children, one of the most important things we can do to protect them is to get the people around them vaccinated. This entails having fruitful conversations with loved ones who are still sceptical of vaccines, as well as enrolling older children in order for them to receive their dose.
We’re likely on the verge of making booster vaccines available to all adults, which can help combat potential waning immunity in people who are six months out from their second Pfizer or Moderna shot, or two months out from their Johnson and Johnson single-shot vaccine.