SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Vaccine manufacturers are now starting to turn their focus to a key sector of the population - children.
Until very recently, babies, toddlers, kids, and teens have largely been left out of the conversation about COVID vaccines. As a result, parents have a lot of questions.
"My concern is they haven't done a lot of testing with children his age," said Hilda, a mother of three.
"The foremost concern is about side effects," said Ankita Sharma, who has a daughter. "I would wait until at least she turns three to get her vaccinated."
"We are not sure if it's going to be fever, or pain, or what," said father, Argun Krishna.
"This is my first child, so of course I'm going to be a little nervous about putting anything into him," said Lindsey Tankenoff, who is pregnant.
For answers, ABC7 went to the pediatric experts in the Bay Area and beyond:
- Dr. Alok Patel - ABC7 new special correspondent and pediatric hospitalist.
- Dr. Yvonne Maldonado - Stanford epidemiologist and chair of the committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Dr. Paul Offit - vaccine expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, which is recommended for universal use in infants. Dr. Offit is also a voting member of the FDA's Vaccine Advisory Committee, which recommended Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines for emergency use.
"I think the reason that children were not a priority here is if you look at people less than 21 years of age, they account for 26% of the United States population, but only 0.08% of the deaths and that's why they haven't been a priority. I mean, as distinct from nursing homes, which accounted for 40% of the deaths," said Dr. Offit, who still thinks vaccinating children is worthwhile.
"The fact is, children can get sick, they can suffer and they can occasionally die from this virus. I mean, as many children actually died this past year from SARS COVID, as died from influenza. And, children can suffer longer term effects, like multi system inflammatory disease of children, so called MISC. So children do need to be protected from this disease. And hopefully, early next year, we'll start to generate the kind of studies that make us feel comfortable vaccinating children."
Pfizer and Moderna have started testing their COVID vaccine on teens in the U.S. It's likely, AztraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson will follow suit.
"And as they feel comfortable with those studies, they move into younger and younger ages. So I suspect over 2021, we'll see more and more trials in younger and younger children. And our hope is that by the end of 2021, there would be vaccines available for children as young as six months of age, if that's possible," said Dr. Maldonado.
Which Dr. Maldonado pointed out, would be on time for the new school year.
Dr. Maldonado is on California's vaccine safety review committee and says trials will likely involve different dosing regimens to determine a COVID vaccine schedule that is most effective in children.
"In conducting and assessing vaccines in kids, is always no matter what the vaccine is, is always safety, safety comes first, because you're vaccinating healthy people," she said. "I do think that a lot more needs to be done to shore up confidence among families and we need to see the data, so that we can feel comfortable to recommend one way or the other what parents should do."
In the Pfizer trials, up to half of the adults experienced some sort of reaction to the vaccine, which raises questions about what side effects might occur in children.
"Children tend to have a very active immune system. And the reason that matters right now is children may react differently to these vaccines than the adults," said Dr. Patel. "They may have a stronger response, those responses may last longer, instead of one day of joint pain, they may experience two to three."
Dr. Patel explained that reactions to a vaccine are a sign that the immune system is working. "Don't be alarmed, don't be scared, this is proof that the vaccine is working... and if we're not really transparent about these responses, and if people get freaked out because their child has muscle aches or a fever, we may lose some of those parents for the second shot. We know that we need both of them as at least that's what we guess we need both of them to get that full effect, that 94% to 95% efficiency.
"I'm hoping I had the vaccine for my own safety, I guess or that I get it soon if I didn't originally," said Katelyn Evans, who is one of the first teenagers in the world to get injected in a COVID vaccine trial. She doesn't know if she got the vaccine or a placebo.
"I've been monitoring my temperature and everything. And I've been really fortunate that I haven't had any symptoms at all"
Evans is 16 and her family supported her as she volunteered for a phase 2/3 Pfizer trial at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in October. Pfizer's vaccine is now authorized for anyone 16 and older.
"I'm anxious to go back to school and just try to get parts of my life that I'm never going to have another shot at. So the more we listen to scientists, and the more we do the right thing and try and keep our neighbors safe, the sooner we can get back to some kind of normal," said Evans.
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