When will COVID vaccines be ready for kids? BioNTech predicts as early as June

The CEO of German vaccine pioneer BioNTech thinks it will be possible for some children to start receiving COVID-19 vaccines as soon as June—in Europe, at least.

Uğur Şahin told Der Spiegel that the process can “go quickly now,” after BioNTech and its American partner Pfizer announced positive (but preliminary) trial results at the end of March, for children between the ages of 12 and 15. Currently, vaccines can only be given to people age 16 or older.

Şahin said BioNTech was about to submit its study data to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is evaluating and providing recommendations on COVID vaccines for the whole EU. He predicted the first vaccinations for this age group could begin in early June.

The plan is to then move down age brackets—the younger the child, the smaller the dosage that is required. “In July we can expect the first results for 5- to 12-year-olds, and in September for younger children,” Şahin said.

A bullish time frame

Şahin’s prediction is markedly more bullish than that expressed four weeks ago by Pfizer boss Albert Bourla, who at the time expressed the “hope of starting to vaccinate [the 12 to 15] age group before the start of the next school year” in the U.S.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has been allowing both Pfizer and Moderna to study the effects of their vaccines on children as young as six months, also indicated at the end of March that 12- to 15-year-olds might start getting vaccinated by the fall.

An earlier start for children’s vaccinations could have implications not just for family get-togethers, but for summer vacations, too.

In Europe, countries are planning to allow their citizens to cross borders for vacations with the use of “digital green certificates”—known informally as vaccine passports, though the European Commission is adamant that people must be able to move between EU member states without a certificate, too. A major reason for that stance is the inability of children to receive vaccines.

If the green certificate becomes a reality, it could be that many facilities will want to see one before allowing tourists in. So vaccinating teenagers could plausibly make the difference between a family being able to visit a certain restaurant or not.

In the European context, it is also important to note that it will take some months for all willing adults to get vaccinated.

On BioNTech’s home turf in Germany, for example, just under a quarter of adults have received their first vaccine dose, and only 7.4% have been fully vaccinated. Europe’s vaccination drive is now moving ahead at a healthy clip, in part thanks to BioNTech/Pfizer producing more doses than previously anticipated, but the region will still need a while to catch up with the likes of the U.S. and the U.K. on adult vaccinations.

According to Şahin, 50% to 60% of the European population will have been dosed by the end of June, and the region could reach herd immunity “in July, latest by August.” However, that’s not counting children, who would remain at risk; it is very unusual for a child to get seriously ill with COVID-19, but the long-term effects of the disease remain unknown.

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