With news of not one, but three, effective Covid vaccines on the horizon, people are understandably buoyed by the prospect of 2021 returning to some form of normality.
But parents may be left with even more questions now there’s an end (of sorts) in sight. Will children need to be vaccinated? If so, when? And have the existing vaccine trials involved children?
To ease some of your concerns, we’ve attempted to answer some questions you may have.
Will children need the vaccine?
It’s early days – none of the vaccines have been approved for widespread use yet – so we don’t know if and when children will be required to have the vaccine in the UK.
What we do know is that the aim of a workable Covid-19 vaccine is to prevent severe illness in patients, rather than preventing transmission. And it’s now widely agreed children have a much milder experience of the virus than adults.
We also know children aren’t a priority for the roll-out of the vaccine programme if and when it becomes available. Interim guidance published in September on the UK government’s website states care home residents and workers would be prioritised first, followed by those over 80 years of age and health and social care workers. It then moves down in five-year increments – so 75-year-olds, then 70-year-olds right down to 50-year-olds.
After that, the rest of the population will be eligible, but there are no specifics on whether this includes children. The list is also subject to change, as people with medical conditions and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities are considered higher risk and weren’t included in the guidance.
It’s highly likely children with no underlying medical conditions will be at the bottom of the priorities pile, based on what we know about how the virus impacts their health. But if the aim is to ultimately reach herd immunity with a vaccine, children will need to be immunised, too.
As Sallie Permar, an immunologist and professor at Duke University School of Medicine, told AAMC: “A paediatric vaccine would not only help children, it will be the basis of eventually eliminating Covid-19 in our population.”
Has the vaccine been tested on children?
There are a few vaccines in clinical trials, with some already being tested on children, and others not that far along in the process.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, plans to recruit children aged 5-12 years old to trial it. Dr Tonia Thomas, from the Oxford Vaccine Group, tells HuffPost UK: “Our Phase II/III clinical trial protocol includes a group of children aged 5-12, however this group has not yet been recruited.”
They haven’t been recruited yet as scientists need extensive safety data available from the adult studies before they can go ahead testing it on children.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is already being tested on children and teens. A spokesperson told HuffPost UK they expanded their initial enrolment in the study from 30,000 people to 44,000 people. “This allowed us to include additional populations, including people as young as 12 years old and people with chronic, stable HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HCV (Hepatitis C virus), or HBV (Hepatitis B virus) infections”.
They added: “We have submitted available safety data for the approximately 100 trial participants in the 12-15-year-old cohort who have received their second dose.”
The group behind the adenoviral vaccine, Janssen, said at the end of October it planned to start testing its vaccine on those aged 12 to 18 as soon as possible. But a spokesperson confirmed to HuffPost UK that studies in the paediatric population (children) “would not likely be until next year”.
What if parents disagree on giving their kids the vaccine?
Family law specialist Patricia Robinson anticipates the Covid-19 vaccine will be the latest bone of contention between parents if they are separated.
Robinson, who is a resolution specialist and partner in the family law team at Slater Heelis, says: “Some parents have differing opinions on whether their child should be inoculated for standard vaccinations and we expect that the coronavirus vaccine will be no different. If parents cannot agree on whether their child should receive the vaccination, legal proceedings may be necessary.”
She points out that in a recent reported case, the court held that if the administration of a vaccine is in the best interests of a particular child, a parent can be overruled – “however, given the lack of familiarity of the Covid-19 vaccine, there is some degree of uncertainty.”
If one parent wants their child to be immunised but the other parent does not, a court application can be made in order for the specific issue to be determined by a judge.
“If Public Health England (PHE) support and recommend a vaccination, then it is most likely that the court would decide that it is in the child’s best interests to receive it,” adds Robinson.