Campbell, who with colleagues has developed a plan for how to run pediatric COVID vaccine trials, points out that “in a universe where COVID mainly affected children the way it’s affecting them now, and we had potential vaccines, people would be clamoring for them.”
The evidence that teens can transmit the disease is pretty clear, and transmission has been documented in children as young as 8. Fear of spread by children has been enough to close schools, and led the American Academy of Pediatrics to demand that children be quickly included in vaccine testing.
“The longer we take to start kids in trials, the longer it will take them to get vaccinated and to break the chains of transmission,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University who chairs the AAP’s infectious disease committee. “If you want kids to go back to school and not have the teachers union terrified, you have to make sure they aren’t a risk.”
Other pediatricians worry that early pediatric trials could backfire. Dr. Cody Meissner, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Tufts Medical Center and a member of the FDA’s advisory committee on vaccines, is worried that whatever causes Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, a rare but frightening COVID-related disorder, might also be triggered, however rarely, by vaccination.
Meissner abstained from the committee’s vote Thursday that supported, by a 17-4 vote, an emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for people 16 and older.
“I have trouble justifying it for children so unlikely to get the disease,” he said during debate on the measure.
But panel member Dr. Ofer Levy, director of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, said the 16-and-up authorization would speed the vaccine’s testing in and approval for younger children. That is vital for the world’s protection from COVID-19, he said, since in the United States and most places “most vaccines are delivered early in life.”
While vaccines given to tens of thousands of people so far appear to be safe, the lack of understanding of the inflammatory syndrome means that children in any trials should be followed closely, said Dr. Emily Erbelding, director of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.