There is currently a lot of discussion about the appropriate vaccination sequence, but one group almost never appears in this discussion: children. Do they not need a vaccination? Many experts believe that this is already the case. However, there are a number of reasons why children are likely to have to wait longer to be vaccinated than anyone else.
First of all, it is clear: the younger someone is, the less likely it is that that person will experience a severe course of the disease. However, from the point of view of many experts, this does not mean that children do not need vaccination protection – for two reasons: Firstly, every serious course of the disease should be prevented if possible. And the fact is that children also experience difficult processes. These could be prevented by vaccination. Experts speak of individual protection here.
Second, children are drivers of infection even if they themselves experience a mild or asymptomatic course of the infection. How many children actually contribute to the spread of the infection is controversial. But whenever a child carries the infection, it can infect others who may be at higher risk of developing the disease more seriously. Experts call this aspect civil protection.
“… there is a need to vaccinate children under the age of 16 against COVID-19 as soon as possible”
Prof. Jörg Dötsch, Director of the Clinic for Pediatric Medicine at the University of Cologne, summarizes both: “Both with regard to individual protection and with regard to civil protection, there is a need to protect children and young people under the age of 16 against Covid-19 as soon as possible vaccinate. “Although the acute course of the disease in children is not very often severe,” the excessive immune reaction in some children and adolescents is definitely a reason for inpatient admission and treatment. ”
In terms of individual protection, this can be avoided by vaccination. But this goal will not be achieved anytime soon. So far, none of the corona vaccines have been approved for children – and only the Biontech vaccine can be administered to adolescents over the age of 16.
The Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for the safety of vaccines in this country, emphasizes: Vaccines can only be approved for those age groups for which clear data on effectiveness and safety from clinical trials are available.
Study results are expected by 2024 at the latest
Such studies on the effectiveness and side effects of the vaccines, on the basis of which they could then be given to children, are among the requirements that the regulatory authorities have imposed on the vaccine manufacturers. However, the submission deadline for these study results is not until July or December 2024.
These studies are already running. Biontech / Pfizer has been testing the vaccine on 12 to under 16 year olds since autumn 2020, and Moderna is testing the effectiveness of its preparation on a total of 3,000 children between 12 and 17 years of age. Nevertheless, results are not expected until mid-2022. AstraZeneca also wants to expand its studies to children, even from the age of six.
There are two reasons for this slow progress: On the one hand, it is legally and ethically much more difficult to test vaccine on minors. While people of legal age can overlook the risk of such a study and fully consciously decide to participate, children are not given this free decision lightly for understandable reasons.
In addition, developing children’s bodies are generally more vulnerable to possible side effects and must be treated with particular caution: “The testing effort is much higher than for adults,” explains Frank Zepp, director of the University’s Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine Mainz; “The younger the person is, the more pronounced they can react and the more severe the side effects”.
“That is not yet foreseeable”
“Before the clinical trial on children, it must be ensured that no serious side effects occurred in the studies in adults,” says the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). “For ethical reasons alone, children are not intended for early testing”.
Therefore, the RKI urges patience. The question: “Will there be a vaccination recommendation for children against Covid-19?”, Answered the Robert Koch Institute at the beginning of January as follows: “That is not yet foreseeable.”
Fred Zepp expects “at the end of the year at the earliest, more likely at the beginning of next year” that children in Germany could be vaccinated. Compared to other forecasts, this assessment even seems optimistic. What is certain is that children will have to wait a long time for their vaccinations.
tf / with dpa