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As the COVID-19 vaccination rollout continues, when will children be vaccinated?

As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to expand to new groups of people, there is the question of when children can begin to get shots. Dr. Fauci recently said children as young as first-graders may be vaccinated by the start of school in September. Caroline Chen covers public health at ProPublica, and joined Hari Sreenivasan for more on what we know about kids and COVID-19.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to expand to new groups of people, there is also the question of when children can begin to get shots. Dr. Fauci recently said children as young as first-graders may be vaccinated by the start of school in September.

    ProPublica reporter Caroline Chen, who covers public health, joined me for more on what we know about children and COVID-19.

    So Caroline, it is on the mind of every parent, but also employers who employ parents on exactly when children will get the vaccine, where we are we at in that process.

  • Caroline Chen:

    At this very moment, the available vaccines are only approved for 16 and older. So not very available for children. I asked Dr. Fauci this question of when the vaccine might be available for more children, when it might be authorized, and he said that he was hopeful that the vaccine might be authorized for children down to first graders by the time school started in September.

    Authorized is one thing, so let's start with that. What does that mean? That means the FDA says it is greenlit for children. That is different from there being, first of all, enough supply and that it is administered. Those are different balls of wax entirely. But authorization depends on there being data. So then, I have decided I would go and talk to manufacturers and see what clinical trials were– were in the works. And it really turns out that this really all entirely hangs on Pfizer right now.

    And why is that? So Pfizer has already finished enrolling its trial from 12 to 15-year-olds and is hoping to have data, they said pretty soon. And if that goes well, they will then move downwards into five to 11 year olds. Moderna, meanwhile, is still enrolling its adolescent trial. And then if that goes well again, they will move downwards to younger kids. But they said they don't expect their younger kids trial, which goes as far down as six months. They don't expect the data until 2022. So for Fauci's prediction to come true, we're going to have to rely on Pfizer sort of hitting all its goals.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And even if you do hit all those goals, we are still not at a point where everyone who wants a vaccine can get one, or at least it is not very easy to do so. Adding in millions of schoolchildren, children, that dosage question, can Pfizer or anybody else ramp up that fast?

  • Caroline Chen:

    We just put out a graphic today that shows everything that's been promised based on public statements, contracts, news reports for Pfizer, Moderna and presuming it gets authorized, J&J. So actually, we should have enough doses to cover every single American by July based on supply. So that should not be a problem. But again, for children, even if the supply is there for the regular dose, you can't just give them to the younger kids until it's proven to be safe and effective and we know the right dose to give to them. So there are a number of pieces that need to fall into place in these trials before it's going to be available to the younger kids.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And what do we know about children and their ability to either get sick or spread the virus?

  • Caroline Chen:

    A lot of parents I've talked to have said, well, we know that the chance of the kid dying of COVID is minuscule. So why would I even bother to vaccinate my kid? And I think that is a totally fair question. So I actually went to a lot of pediatricians and said, best-case scenario, the trial data is fantastic. It's proven to be safe. It's proven to be effective. Would you advise parents to vaccinate their kids? And I talked to three or four pediatricians who are infectious disease specialists and they all said yes for two different reasons.

    So on an individual level, we know that fortunately, the chances of dying is extremely low. They can still get very sick with what's called multisystem inflammatory disease in children, which is sort of mysterious at this point. We don't really fully understand it, but these kids can get very sick. So there is that risk to individual children that we don't want them to go through. So you want to protect your kid from that.

    And then second, if you think from a population standpoint, so children, so this is 18 and under, are more than 20 percent of the US population. So at this point, if we want to reach herd immunity as the population, we want to end this pandemic and also the fear of variants and this notion that every case gives the virus another chance to mutate.

    And I don't want to be an alarmist here at all, but the pediatricians did say we're lucky right now, that the forms of coronavirus we see are not particularly scary or dangerous to kids. But we don't want there to be this chance that the coronavirus evolves to be more harmful to kids.

    So we want to end the pandemic, not give the coronavirus a chance to mutate. And what we know about children is we think that they transmit less than adults do, but it's not that they cannot transmit. So it is important for everybody who has a chance to get the vaccine to take the vaccine. So, again, if it's proven to be totally safe for kids, very, very important that this be shown first, that they would recommend that every kid get the vaccine.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Caroline Chen of ProPublica, thanks so much.

  • Caroline Chen:

    Thank you for having me.

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