When Will the COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available for Kids, and Will It Be Safe for Your Family?

Earlier this week, the drug maker Pfizer announced positive results from their COVID-19 vaccine trial. The results may not hold up — but if the good news proves true, a COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for certain high-risk populations by the end of the year.

That’s a big “if.” But we know that many families are anxious to hear what might happen next.

Connecticut Children’s Physician-in-Chief Juan Salazar, MD, MPH, shares what we know so far.

 
 

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If a COVID-19 vaccine is on track for the end of this year, when will it be available for my family?

If drug manufacturers are producing a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2020, it will be a huge step forward in our fight against coronavirus.

But unless your family includes a frontline healthcare worker, the adults in your family probably won’t have access to the vaccine until spring 2021. And it could be many months after that (or longer), before the vaccine is available for kids.

> Related: What Should My Family Do About Holiday Plans and Travel During COVID-19?

Why will it take so long for a COVID-19 vaccine to become widely available?

Once a vaccine is approved, it takes a lot of time to manufacture and distribute.

Doses will be extremely limited at first, so the vaccine will probably be given to health care workers first, who are at the highest risk for infection. The next available doses may go to individuals who are at risk for more severe illness from COVID-19, such as older adults.

After that, the vaccine could become available to the general adult population — but probably not kids.

> Related: Why Your Child Needs Their Flu Shot ASAP

Why wouldn’t a COVID-19 vaccine be available to kids at the same time as adults?

Children’s immune systems are very different from adults’, and their immune responses can be different at different ages, from infancy through the teenage years.

So far, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has only been fully tested on adults. In September, they started including teenagers as young as 16 in an ongoing trial, and last month they began a new trial including children as young as 12. They haven’t yet shared these results, but one thing is sure: More research is needed to make sure any COVID-19 vaccine will be safe and effective for infants, kids and teens.

How does Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine work?

The vaccine is given in two doses: an initial dose followed three weeks later by a booster shot. It uses a genetic molecule called mRNA, which causes a person’s cells to create a viral protein (called a “spike”) that triggers the desired immune response.

This is a new technology for vaccines. Because of the mRNA component, the vaccine must be stored at “ultra cold” temperatures, minus-80 degrees Celsius (minus-112 degrees Fahrenheit).

> Related: Ask a Pediatrician: How Can I Tell if My Child Has the Flu or COVID-19?

Is Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine safe?

Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, say they designed early trials to test for warning signs about the vaccine’s safety, and found no serious safety concerns. Health officials will closely review all safety data from the clinical trial in order to answer this question.

Will Pfizer’s vaccine wear off every year, like the flu shot?

Great question. Pfizer has not yet released this information — so stay tuned.

Is Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine the only vaccine in development?

No. There are 10 other vaccines in late-stage trials by other companies. The drug maker Moderna says its vaccine uses a similar mRNA technology as Pfizer’s, which could be promising. We’ll likely hear more from all of these companies later this month. It’s possible that several COVID-19 vaccines will ultimately be approved.

How is Connecticut Children’s preparing for a COVID-19 vaccine?

We’re working closely with state and federal health agencies to be ready for the vaccine as soon as it’s ready. Because Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be stored at ultra cold temperatures, we have already purchased freezers for storage, and are looking at the best locations to distribute the vaccine to our front-line workers.

As a reminder: Until a COVID-19 vaccine has been tested and approved for children, these efforts are in anticipation of administering the vaccine to Connecticut Children’s frontline healthcare heroes. We still have a lot to learn about this vaccine before we can be sure it’s safe for kids.

Learn how we’re keeping kids safe during COVID-19.

How should my family prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Keep wearing masks, social distancing, practicing great hand hygiene, and self-quarantining at home if anyone in your family might be sick.

If you have questions about coronavirus and your child, call Connecticut Children’s 24-Hour Pediatric COVID-19 Hotline at 833.226.2362.

And don’t delay your child’s care! Connecticut Children’s offers Video Visits in more than 30 specialties, and works around the clock to keep your child safe and sound at every in-person appointment, including at convenient locations near you.

> Related: What Should I Do When My Child Has a Common Cold During COVID-19?

What’s next?

We wait. Pfizer will continue to gather results until the third week of November. At that point, they may apply for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and health officials will begin closely reviewing all of the manufacturing and safety data. This process could take weeks.

We may also hear from other companies with vaccines in late-stage trials.

Once a vaccine is authorized, drug makers will begin producing tens of millions of doses, while other experts work on determining how to ship, store and distribute it. (This could be especially complicated with Pfizer’s vaccine and others like it, which must be stored at ultra cold temperatures.) We’ll know about the timeline as these next steps unfold.

Connecticut Children’s will be working closely with national and international health leaders, and we’ll keep you informed every step of the way.

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