PITTSBURGH — The race to get a COVID-19 vaccine appears to be entering its final lap.
According to the World Health Organization, there are 47 vaccines currently in different clinical evaluation stages.
What they all have in common is they’re designed to prevent adults from contacting the coronavirus, not children.
“Kids are not little adults. Kids have very different physiologies; they have very different immune systems, and this is especially true when it comes to vaccines,” said Dr. Anita McElroy, a pediatric infectious disease physician at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and part of UPMC’s vaccine team.
McElroy said it makes sense for COVID-19 vaccine work to focus on adults since they are far more likely to have adverse effects.
That means getting a vaccine in place that’s safe for children could take much longer. Development requires time, research, and clinical trials.
McElroy expects it will be difficult to find a significant number of parents who are willing to let their kids be part of a clinical trial for an unproven vaccine.
“I would not at this point,” said Jasmine Paulino, whose daughter Aya is a Pittsburgh Public Schools student.
Those realities could delay development further.
When asked if a COVID-19 vaccine for kids could be ready by the beginning of the 2021 school year, McElroy called the timeline optimistic.
That uncertainty also puts school administrators in a difficult position, as they navigate when it’s safe for students to return to the classroom.
The majority of students at Woodland Hills School District have been doing virtual learning since the pandemic began in March.
With COVID-19 cases reaching historic levels in Allegheny County, Superintendent James Harris doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.
However, an effective vaccine for kids would make his decisions easier. But the unknown presents its own sets of challenges.
“If there’s an adult vaccine, that’s fantastic. If students could have something, that’s even better. Right now, we’re just trying to make the best of it,” Harris said.
So far, companies like Pfizer and Moderna are showing the most promising vaccine results.
Near the end of October, Pfizer began allowing teenagers as young as 16 into its clinical trials.
Once adult vaccines start getting FDA approval and are distributed, McElroy expects the work on a children’s vaccine to gain momentum.
“I think it’s an important thing for us to have on the table. We should be able to have a vaccine to use in children. It just may take a little bit longer to get to.”
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