NEW YORK - It is a question left out of most stories about the race for a COVID-19 vaccine: What about the kids? Is anyone working on a vaccine that protects them? The short answer is: No.
"The focus has not been on children either for drug development or vaccine development," said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an immunologist with NYU Langone.
To date, the federal government has allocated more than $9 billion to developing and manufacturing a COVID-19 vaccine. However, not one drug company receiving those funds has publicly stated an intention to allocate any portion of that money for vaccine development in patients 18 and under.
Children and young adults make up 22% of the U.S. population and 7% of COVID-19 cases nationally.
Dr. Rick Malley is an infectious disease specialist at Boston Children's Hospital, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and a founding scientist at the vaccine development company Affinivax, which is in the early research stages of a COVID-19 vaccine. Affinivax is backed by the Gates Foundation. Malley explained how the vaccine development process works.
"The general process is to start testing in healthy young adults," Malley said. If the vaccine is deemed safe in healthy adults, it is tested in immunocompromised adults. Once it's considered safe for that population, the process can begin in studying the effects in children.
That means that a pediatric vaccine won't be developed for many months or even years.
"They would need multiple trials before we could approve it for pediatrics," Parikh said.
"We don't want to be giving a vaccine that is not safe to anyone, no matter how old they are," Malley said.
Dr. Dyan Hes, a pediatrician with Gramercy Pediatrics, looks forward to the day she can offer a vaccine to her pint-sized patients. Hes said she'd even go so far as to volunteer her kids for a vaccine trial.
"I think if we get it under control in adults it will be much safer for everyone involved and then we can thrive outside of your house," Hes said.