Approval of coronavirus vaccines for children under 12 could take months; no rush needed unless a bad variant arises, experts say

A healthcare provider preparing to vaccinate someone's arm

“Experts say it’s a no-brainer for adults and adolescents to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. But for younger kids, the case isn’t as clear-cut,” reports Alexandra Ellerbeck of The Washington Post.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 to 15, the agency said it could take months to approve a vaccine for younger children. But “Children under 12 are rarely hospitalized with or die of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus — and there’s evidence they don’t spread the virus as easily as adults,” Ellerbeck writes, and some experts told her that it’s unclear how big a benefit such vaccinations would be.

“For adults, it’s obviously better that the first exposure is to a vaccine, not natural infection,” said Jennie Lavine, an infectious-disease researcher at Emory University in Atlanta. “Vaccinating children becomes pretty marginal. They’re not getting much of a direct benefit, and it’s not clear that the indirect benefit will be that large.”

Lavine said that could change, though if a new variant of the virus “becomes much more infectious or deadly in children,” Ellerbeck writes. “There’s some debate, too, over how often covid-19 infections can cause lingering effects in children.” Also, “The vaccines could be particularly life-changing for kids who are high risk or who live with adults who are immunocompromised.”

As parents look toward sending their children back to school in the fall, “Many public health experts have heralded vaccines for children as a way to make in-person schooling even safer and alleviate concerns,” Ellerbeck reports. “Others worry vaccines could paradoxically have the opposite effect if schools are reluctant to admit unvaccinated students or if parents don’t want to send their children back until they can get a vaccine.”

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