"This is great news," Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "This is news that a lot of us have been waiting for."
Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of tropical medicine and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, agrees, telling Yahoo Life: "This is excellent news to not only provide protection to children but to reduce community transmission, a step closer to herd immunity."
The study, which involved more than 2,200 adolescents in the U.S., demonstrated 100 percent efficacy, "robust antibody responses" and was "well tolerated," according to Pfizer’s March 31 press release.
Study participants in the control group, who were given a placebo instead of the vaccine, experienced 18 cases of COVID-19, while those who received the vaccine had zero cases of the illness. "There was a very strong antibody response," says Gonsenhauser, who was not involved in the study. "So that's really good news. With the side effects, safety and efficacy profile, it does open up that opportunity to extend vaccinations" to younger groups. Gonsenhauser adds: "The fact that we have seen so many adults who have tolerated it so well speaks highly for its approval."
Pfizer's vaccine is currently approved for those 16 and older. So experts say that Pfizer will need to propose an amendment to their emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration to include this younger group. "Because the age group studied is different from the original FDA EUA, the FDA will need to review the new trial data, including efficacy and safety, in order to provide EUA for the younger age groups," explains Weatherhead.
Clinical trials involving even younger children are already underway. As part of its ongoing phase I, II, III trial, Pfizer's vaccine is being tested in children ages 5 to 11 as of last week, according to the company's press release. Trials for children ages 2 to 5 years old are set to launch next week, and studies will eventually include infants and young children 6 months to 2 years old.
Moderna, which is approved for people 18 and older, started testing its COVID vaccine on children ages 12 to 17 back in December. "Moderna has completed their phase III clinical trial enrollment for children 12 to 17 years old, and it is anticipated this data will be available soon," notes Weatherhead. The company also announced mid-March that it has already begun testing its COVID vaccine on infants and children aged 6 months to 12 years old.
"Johnson & Johnson are proposed to start a clinical trial in children soon, which would include a trial in children aged 12-17 years old and a trial from birth to age 17 years old," notes Weatherhead.
With COVID vaccines for adolescents imminent, experts say this points to the possibility of a return to normalcy for some by mid-summer (though precautions still need to be taken even for those who are vaccinated). "If the Pfizer vaccine is approved for this age group — age 12 to 15 — and there is vaccine available, there could be a greater shift to normalcy, including camps and activities this summer," says Weatherhead.
While Gonsenhauser agrees this all "bodes well," he says that the more important metric to focus on is the number of COVID-19 cases in your community. Although some are seeing a surge in cases right now, Gonsenhauser believes it's likely "a bump in a downward trajectory" of cases. "I think by beginning to mid-summer we're going to see things a lot more normal than we anticipate. I think Fourth of July we'll see fireworks return and see things looking a little bit more familiar."
As far as the looming question for many parents as to whether their children will return to in-person school in the fall, Weatherhead says: "It is anticipated that teenagers, those in middle school and high school, will have the vaccine available to them by the fall school year. Teachers and school staff are also now qualified to receive vaccines in most areas of the country as well. If the vaccines remain efficacious against emerging viral variants, then school could be much more normal in fall 2021 compared to fall 2020. But this will all depend on the viral variants in circulation within the community and the availability of vaccines."
Weatherhead says that the amount of vaccines is "proposed to increase significantly in the next few weeks to months, which will [make] vaccinating younger children more feasible."
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