In late June 2022, the CDC and FDA approved the emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for young children such as Pfizer and Moderna for children ages 6 months to 5 years old. While countries worldwide have received vaccinations from Pfizer and Moderna, the U.S. is the first country to approve vaccines for children under five. Though children in this age group are less likely to experience severe infection than other age groups, the vaccines for young children were worth recommending as it works to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As countries across the globe continue to vaccinate their people, what does the U.S. approval of vaccines for children under five mean for people worldwide?
COVID-19’s Effect on Children Worldwide
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 543 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide. As of December 2021, 17,200 COVID-19 deaths have been reported in adolescents under the age of 20, making up 0.4% of deaths worldwide. The effect on children is harder to understand. Data on child excess mortality and case numbers are inconsistent. Numbers disproportionately represent high-income countries and while the pandemic hits the poorest children the hardest, the effects on middle and low-income countries are underreported.
Along with the direct health effects of contracting COVID-19, children are experiencing indirect effects from prolonging the pandemic. Specifically in low-income countries, children have been affected by the strain on the healthcare system, such as disruptions from routine care and lost family income.
For example, according to UNICEF, 80 million children under the age of one may miss out on other essential vaccines because of the disruptions of the pandemic in May 2020. With increased vaccination rates worldwide, the hope is the pandemic can be mitigated and such effects on children will decrease.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for young children approved in the U.S. have a smaller dosage than their adult counterparts. For Moderna, two doses given four weeks apart are 25 micrograms each. With Pfizer, three shots contain three micrograms each. Each vaccine contains just a fraction of the dosage given to adults.
Worldwide Childhood Vaccine Distribution
Since the beginning of the pandemic, health care responses have not been equitable across the globe. While 66% of the world has been vaccinated against COVID-19, only 16% of people in low-income countries have received one dose as of May 2022. Initiatives similar to the WHO’s COVAX program has helped distribute COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries. As of May 2022, Pfizer has distributed 3.5 billion COVID-19 vaccines to over 175 countries.
As the U.S. was the first country to approve Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children under 5 years old, other efforts are underway across the world. Pfizer and Moderna are not the only COVID-19 vaccines, as a Cuban vaccine has been given to over 1.7 million children under the age of 18. This vaccine is now being produced for Iran, Vietnam and Venezuela.
Vaccine Regulations and Authorizations
Pfizer and Moderna are some of the most prominent vaccines as they are making up around 33.6% of the total vaccines distributed in Africa. The companies are working to get vaccines for young children approved in other countries. Pfizer says they are committed to protecting all age groups from COVID-19 and are working to ensure other countries will follow the actions of the U.S. authorization. The company plans to submit authorizations for vaccinations under five to regulators around the world. For example, the company will request authorization from the European Medical Agency beginning in July 2022.
Ultimately, the vaccine regulations and processes differ for each country. Countries will license various vaccines for different age groups depending on their own analysis of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. As WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan states, countries should follow their guidelines to determine their own calculated risks. Vaccine companies like Pfizer and Moderna will work with health care providers, governments and communities as they continue to expand access to healthcare throughout the world.
While it is unclear when each country will approve vaccines for young children and start distributing the shots, companies similar to Pfizer are working around the world to make sure children will have access to the vaccine.
– Abigail Turner