Why under-16s probably won't be getting Covid-19 vaccines anytime soon
With a second round of school closures and a nationwide lockdown in the UK, frontline healthcare workers rush to vaccinate vulnerable groups in the population. As children stay at home to continue with remote learning once again, a question lies in the back of many parents and children’s minds, “When can my child/I get vaccinated?”. Unfortunately, the answer is that it will probably be a long time before this can happen. Here’s why…
Priority list for vaccinations - According to the JCVI
According to the UK government, the aim is to have offered a first vaccine dose to everyone in the top four priority groups by 15th February, followed by the rest of the priority groups and over 50s by May. Following this, the second phase of vaccination will focus on the rest of the adult population, hopefully vaccinating everyone in this group by September.
Based on government figures, around 45% of people aged over 80 in the UK have already had the first dose of the vaccine.
Children and those under 16 are not yet on the list to be vaccinated and there are no current plans to vaccinate them in the UK.
Limited testing on under 16s
Previous clinical vaccine trials for vaccines currently approved in the UK, namely the Pfizer/ BioNTech, the Moderna and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, did not include teenagers and children. There has been minimal research done on the effects of the vaccine in the younger population, leaving several unknowns in terms of its efficacy and side effects in this group. Children and teens have different immune responses as compared to adults, as their immune systems are still developing and hence separate clinical trials are needed to ensure that the vaccine is safe for use in these age groups.
Furthermore, children of different ages may have differing immune responses and reactions to the vaccine, which may prove to be another challenge in the formulation and distribution of vaccines to children.
The good news is that several vaccine companies have begun clinical trials on children and teens.
· Pfizer/BioNTech – starting clinical trials for those aged 12 and above
· Moderna – recruiting in several US states for a vaccine trial involving children ranging in age from 12-17
· Oxford- AstraZeneca –says phase 2 of its vaccine plane involves assessing 5-12 year olds
However, it is important to note that clinical trials for children proceed at a much slower pace as compared to adults, because researchers try their best to be extra careful when handling a much younger and more delicate, yet relatively healthier population.
Lower risk of severe Covid in children
Regular Covid-19 hospitalisation data shows that the rate of hospitalisation among children is very low compared to adults. Recovery rates are also much quicker and children usually present with milder symptoms. Even so, children are still at risk of developing severe illness and complications to the virus and they can still spread the disease.
If children are not eventually vaccinated, there is a possibility that they will become a reservoir for the virus, making it difficult to end the pandemic as there will still be spread of the disease. If there are resources available to do it, it would definitely be beneficial to vaccinate children as well.
Nevertheless, the vaccine is extremely valuable and priority should be given to high risk groups first. To end the pandemic for good however, it will probably be necessary in the long run to vaccinate children as well.
Find out more about covid-19 on the official NHS website. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/