Currently, three COVID-19 vaccines are authorized for use in the U.S. But, while more than 128 million people have received a COVID-19 vaccine nationwide, most are adults.1
Experts say it’s important to keep children in mind for vaccination, too. “Getting our children vaccinated is absolutely critical, both for their own protection and for the community,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Verywell. “This is the strategy that we use to fight influenza—vaccinating children significantly decreases the community burden.”
So far, only one of the authorized vaccines allows for those 16 and up to get vaccinated,2 with the others requiring individuals to be 18 or over. Only 0.2% of the population under 18 has been vaccinated.
But vaccinating children is “almost as important as it is for adults,” Danelle Fisher, MD, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, tells Verywell. “It’s the last step for ending the pandemic.”
This raises a huge question: When will kids be able to get vaccinated? Here’s where the state of safe vaccines for children stands now.
What Ages Are the Current Vaccines Authorized For?
Vaccines in the U.S. must undergo a rigorous testing process, including three phases of clinical trials, under the guidance of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to be authorized for use.
Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for children aged 16 and up.2 Both Moderna4 and Johnson & Johnson5 are currently only available to those who are 18 and older.
Why? Only Pfizer-BioNTech included people as young as 16 in clinical trials, Russo explains.6 The others only included participants as young as 18. None of the vaccine makers included children under those ages in their clinical trials.
Next Steps in COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials
All of the companies with COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are currently testing their vaccines on children, or plan to do so.
Pfizer is doing two clinical trials: one in children between the ages of 12 and 15 and another for children as young as six months.
On March 31, Pfizer-BioNTech shared results from their phase 3 clinical trial on children between 12 and 15 showing that their vaccine had a 100% efficacy rate in participants and was well tolerated. They plan to submit these results to the FDA as soon as possible to request an expansion of the emergency use authorization (EUA).7
Moderna also has two trials underway: One for kids between the ages of 12 and 17 and another for children as young as six months.
Johnson & Johnson shared in its application for EUA that the company plans to study its vaccine in children aged 12 to 17, followed by newborns.8
When Will Children Be Vaccinated?
It’s hard to know for sure, but experts expect it will follow a certain timeline.
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told lawmakers in mid-March that he expects older kids will be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the fall, while younger children will likely receive the vaccine in early 2022.
“For high school students, it looks like they will be available to get vaccinated in the beginning of the fall, very likely for the fall term,” he said during a hearing with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.9 Fauci said he expects those aged 12 and younger will be vaccinated in the first quarter of 2022.
“I’m hoping that we get the data for 12- to 18-year-olds sometime by late spring or early summer,” Russo says. “This is just a safety trial to make sure the safety signal looks good.”
Fisher says she’s been telling families of her patients to expect to have conversations about actually vaccinating their children in six to 12 months. “In that time, we should have better information, although it will depend on the child’s age,” she says.
As for supply, Fisher is hopeful that enough adults will be vaccinated by then to open up vaccinations for children. “At that point, the supply could be so much that the vaccine could be offered at pediatrician’s offices,” she says.
Experts agree getting children vaccinated is an important step in returning to normalcy. “It will help everyone feel good about getting back to school and daycare, and it will create an optimally safe environment,” Russo says. “It’s a critical measure to make everyone safe.”
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.