When Can Young Children Get Vaccinated?

Parents and guardians of adolescents are breathing a sigh of relief now that COVID-19 vaccinations have begun for 12-to-15-year-olds.

Now, parents of children younger than 12 might be asking, “When will my child be able to get the shot?”

The short answer is that we don’t have an exact answer right now. But there is information available that can help parents of young children prepare.

UNC Health pediatrician Edward Pickens, MD, and Stephanie Duggins Davis, MD, physician-in-chief of UNC Children’s, share what they know.

COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials for Young Children Underway

Clinical trials are happening now for children ages 6 months to 11 years old. These trials are reviewing the efficacy and safety of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Pfizer expects to apply for FDA emergency use authorization for children ages 2 to 11 years old in September. That means young children could be eligible to receive the vaccine by the end of 2021, with babies and toddlers likely to follow soon after.

There are very good reasons why the youngest children “go last” in a vaccine rollout. All clinical trials on human beings prioritize safety, but children are a special population. Researchers want to make sure they have as much information as possible on safety, efficacy, dosage and immune response before giving it to children.

“You first want to demonstrate safety data in adults before allowing the most vulnerable population—the children—to receive the vaccine. This is the typical pathway in clinical trials. You begin with the adults and conduct these studies in the infants last,” Dr. Davis says.

Children’s bodies may react differently to the COVID-19 vaccines than adult bodies do. The same vaccines used in adults might not generate the same immune response in young children, so all age groups must be studied.

“It is going to take a while; children are not just little adults,” Dr. Pickens says. “Their immune systems develop differently, and we need to make sure that it doesn’t affect them in any detrimental ways.”

Protecting Infants from COVID-19

There’s no indication that a COVID-19 vaccine for newborns is coming soon. The youngest age group included in clinical trials so far is 6-month-olds.

That means parents of babies—and all unvaccinated children—need to continue to take care to protect their kids from COVID-19 infection. The best way to do this is to get vaccinated yourself and to ask your child’s caregivers to get vaccinated as well. Unvaccinated caregivers should be masked around children, and children should not be in crowds with people who might be unvaccinated.

There are many reasons to continue to protect your children from COVID-19: While children overall have been less susceptible to COVID-19 complications than adults, they do get COVID-19, and some become very ill. They also can pass the infection on to vulnerable family members, and if they have cold symptoms, they need to be tested for COVID-19 before returning to school or day care.

Pregnant women who get a COVID-19 vaccine likely pass on some immunity to their babies in utero and then later through breast milk, according to research.

Continue Vigilance to Protect Kids

Because children younger than 12 will not be able to receive a vaccine for several months, it’s important for families to continue to follow reasonable COVID-19 safety precautions.

Vaccinated adults can be around unvaccinated children, including indoors without a mask. Unvaccinated adults need to wear masks around other unvaccinated people, including children.

“I would urge parents to continue to do strict hand-washing with their children, remind them to wear their masks, and social distancing, which will decrease their risk of exposure to COVID-19. I would continue these precautions until they are able to receive the vaccine,” Dr. Davis says.

If you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for your child, talk with your child’s pediatrician. If your child doesn’t have one, find one near you. For facts about the COVID-19 vaccines, visit yourshot.org. People ages 12 and up can schedule a vaccine appointment through My UNC Chart or by calling (984) 215-5485.