For many parents desperate to get back to the pre-pandemic world (the one with regular school days, play dates, and no masks) the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine represents a huge step toward regaining some normalcy.
This week the UK approved Pfizer's vaccination for use, and stateside, FDA is expected to authorize Pfizer's vaccine by mid-December, with the first shipments of the vaccine arriving in the U.S. at the end of the week. Moderna also began seeking emergency FDA approval for its vaccine this week.
But while there have been many reports saying that a vaccine could be rolled out within weeks—there is a huge catch moms and dads need to know about: A vaccine for kids may not come along for another year or so. And pregnant people may not be able to get it at first, either.
The race to develop a vaccine began just weeks after the virus was identified, and thousands of volunteers have signed up for ongoing clinical trials. Trials are crucial to making sure that new vaccines are both safe and effective, but as Dr. Evan Anderson of the Emory University School of Medicine previously told the New York Times, only adults are involved.
Pregnant women and kids are not part of the trials.
Anderson, a pediatrician at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, had once hoped a vaccine would be tested for kids under 12 in time for the next school year, but this week he told The Washington Post "the window is closing on any chance of getting an approved vaccine for children before next school year, and it realistically may have already closed."
Anderson was the lead author of a report released in mid-September, which explains the dangers a delay in developing a COVID-19 vaccine for kids could bring. "The current default position, waiting until data from adult efficacy studies are available, will unduly delay Phase II clinical trials of leading COVID-19 vaccines in children resulting in additional pediatric hospitalizations and deaths." He's pushing for pharmaceutical companies to expand trials to include children as soon as possible, to ensure their safety and to help bring back normalcy to kid's lives.
Anderson told the Times that as things stand now, he's worried a vaccine for kids won't even by ready by the fall of 2021—meaning American families could potentially be looking at another chaotic school year.
Anderson's team fears the impact that will have on kids' development. "Delaying Phase II vaccine clinical trials in children will delay our recovery from COVID-19 and unnecessarily prolong its impact upon children's education, health and emotional well-being, and equitable access to opportunities for development and social success," the report said.
While it's generally acknowledged that children don't face as a high a risk from COVID-19 as adults, Anderson's team believes that as long as kids lack the protection of a vaccine, they'll continue to get and spread the virus—keeping the country from truly putting the pandemic behind it. And until that vaccine is ready, however long it may take, doctors want parents to focus on the flu shot.
And while the CDC says pregnant people are at increased risk of COVID-19, Pfizer says it will only have "limited data" on the vaccination in pregnancy before the shot is authorized in the U.S., which means pregnant people may not be able to get vaccinated as early as some other groups.
As The 19th reports, experts are still debating whether pregnant people should be included in vaccination trials due to possible complications for the mom and baby. But Sonja Rasmussen, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Florida who spent decades at the CDC, tells The 19th "We need data collected in a systematic way to guide pregnant women and their health care providers regarding whether they should get a COVID-19 vaccine."
Frontline healthcare workers are mostly women, so a huge percentage of the population who will be receiving the vaccines first also have the potential to be pregnant or get pregnant.
This is a tricky situation, but the FDA has asked the vaccine makers to include pregnant people in the trials.
The good news? Anne Lyerly, an obstetrician and bioethicist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's department of social medicine, tells The 19th the mechanism that is the basis of the COVID-19 vaccine has not been shown to be harmful for pregnant people.
And that isn't the only bit of good news. This pandemic has taught our society so much, not the least of which is that pregnant people and children need to be considered in medical research. It's 2020 and adult males are no longer the default. Medical research needs more diversity and inclusion and this pandemic is teaching the world that.