Children as young as five years old may be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year, according to the director of the National Institutes of Health.
In an interview on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, Dr. Francis Collins said the reason COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved for those under the age of 12 is because of the differing immune responses between adults and children, adding that multiple companies are in the process of collecting more data on the issue.
“Keep in mind, kids are not just scaled down adults — they have different immune systems and metabolisms. You really have to do the careful trials to make sure you got the dose right and there aren't any surprises," Collins told ABC News’ George Stephanopolous. "Realistically, I don't think we're going to see approval for kids under 12 until late in 2021."
Both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting trials to determine the standards of coronavirus vaccination in young children. Pfizer hopes to submit the results of its clinical trial in either September or October in order to get emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to use its jab in children aged 5 to 11, with plans to file a similar request “soon after” for children 6 months to 5 years old.
The FDA on Monday gave full authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be used in Americans 16 years of age and older, making it the first coronavirus vaccine to receive such clearance from federal regulators.
Americans ages 12-15 are still able to receive the Pfizer COVID vaccine under the existing EUA; both the Moderna two-dose vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson single-dose regimen were granted EUAs for use in individuals 18 years or older.
Collins, in a subsequent interview with NPR, said while children under 12 remain ineligible to be vaccinated, it will be vital for schools to implement mask-wearing policies in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms.
"If you want to avoid having that outbreak that's going to send all the kids home again, you should be doing everything to avoid that. And that means wearing masks," Collins said in the interview with NPR. "And by the way, if somebody tries to tell you we don't really have scientific evidence to say that masks reduce infection in schools, that's just not true. There are dozens of publications, both from the U.S. and other countries, to show that's the case.”
The federal government has consistently recommended students wear masks in school, but the White House has so far stopped short of issuing a mandate requiring school districts to do so. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, guidance that is particularly important for children under the age of 12.
A number of Republican governors have ignored the guidance, opting instead to issue orders barring mask mandates — and in turn, drawing the ire of President Joe Biden and his Education Department.
Late last week, Biden instructed the Department of Education to intervene in states where Republican governors have barred COVID-19 mitigation strategies in schools, decrying efforts to “block and intimidate local school officials and educators” from implementing public health and safety measures.
“Unfortunately, as we have seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures — children wearing masks and schools — into political disputes for their own political gain. Some are even trying to take power away from local educators by banning masks and schools,” Biden said during a Wednesday evening speech from the White House, adding: “They are setting a dangerous tone.”
White House officials demurred on Tuesday when asked why the federal government has not yet directly asked governors to implement mask mandates for K-12 schools, and suggested the administration will continue to rely on the health guidelines set forth by scientists.
“Unfortunately, some school districts are being forced with difficult choices: Defy their governors, or hurt their students,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a Tuesday press briefing. “No school should have to make that choice. Governors and other leaders must put politics and their own political self-interest aside.”
“We’ll continue to use every tool available to support efforts to protect students and bring them back to school safely,” he added.