Orenstein: One limitation is that the Pfizer vaccine has not yet been tested in young children, so we don’t have data on its effectiveness and safety in that age group. Additionally, the trials with older children have just started, so we don’t have complete information on how well the vaccine works in that population either. This means that even if the vaccine is approved and available, schools may still need to follow strict control measures and mitigation efforts until we have more information on its effectiveness in children.
Rohr-Allegrini: Another limitation is that the Pfizer vaccine is not 100 percent effective. While it has shown to be 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, there is still a possibility that some individuals who receive the vaccine may not be fully protected. Additionally, there may be individuals who are unable to receive the vaccine for medical reasons, leaving them at risk. This means that schools will need to continue implementing mitigation efforts like mask-wearing and physical distancing to reduce the risk of transmission until the majority of the population is vaccinated and community transmission is at a low level.
Orenstein: Furthermore, it’s important to note that the initial supply of the vaccine will be limited. This means that not everyone will have access to the vaccine right away, and there will be prioritization guidelines in place. While it’s possible that teachers and school employees may be given priority for vaccinations, it’s not yet clear where they will fall within the priorities. Frontline healthcare workers and elderly individuals are currently considered top priority. Therefore, schools may still need to operate with limited capacity until a larger supply of the vaccine becomes available and more individuals are vaccinated.
Rohr-Allegrini: Finally, the success of the vaccine in schools will also depend on the level of community transmission. Even if teachers and school employees are vaccinated, if community transmission rates are high, there will still be a risk of COVID-19 spread within schools. Therefore, schools should closely monitor the local transmission rates and make decisions about easing mitigation efforts based on that data. It’s important to remember that the vaccine, while a significant step forward, is not a standalone solution and should be used in conjunction with other control measures to effectively reduce transmission in schools.
How significant is the role of children’s vaccines in K-12 schools? Can the Pfizer vaccine have an impact on K-12 schools if it is only approved for use in adults?
Orenstein: It is crucial that both children and adults get vaccinated. It would be concerning if there was no vaccine available for children. We need to make sure it is accessible as soon as possible.
Rohr-Allegrini: Having a vaccine for adults is extremely important for schools because it provides more reassurance that the adults are protected. Teenagers are just as likely to spread the virus as adults. While the youngest children may not be as infectious or at as high risk, the overall risk is still lower.
What is the estimated timeline for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine for children?
Orenstein: [Laughs] I wish I had a crystal ball to give a definitive answer. My hope would be sometime in the middle or early next year, but it is uncertain. Children have not been included in most of the vaccine studies, but we are starting to gather that data now. It will take more time. It is important to have the data published in a peer-reviewed journal to address any concerns.
Rohr-Allegrini: The Pfizer vaccine has already begun testing in children as young as 12. I believe other vaccine manufacturers will also start their own trials soon. If this vaccine proves to be effective in children, it could be ready in around six months. However, it is unlikely to be ready for this school year due to the time required for production and gradual distribution.
Why is there a delay in developing a COVID-19 vaccine for children?
Rohr-Allegrini: I wouldn’t necessarily call it a delay, as vaccine development typically takes several years. The fact that we have a vaccine in less than a year is impressive and shows great progress. When developing a vaccine, we usually start with the population that is most at risk but relatively healthy because we don’t want to test it on individuals with other health complications. That is why testing begins with adults. Testing on children involves ethical considerations, as parents must give consent on behalf of their child, adding complexity to the process.
What are the most effective strategies for addressing vaccine hesitancy in communities?
Orenstein: We need to be honest, transparent, and demonstrate that we haven’t cut any corners in the development of the vaccine. We must provide the public with confidence that the effectiveness and safety data we present are accurate and reliable. It’s important to remember that vaccines only save lives when they are administered, not when they remain unused in vials.
How should school leaders handle vaccine hesitancy among teachers and staff?
Rohr-Allegrini: The messaging should incorporate enough scientific information to instill confidence in getting the vaccine. It is crucial to address any concerns and ensure that individuals do not feel coerced or fearful of getting vaccinated. School leaders do not need to be experts on vaccines, but they can rely on experts to craft their messaging. We are familiar with the common questions and know how to deliver sensitive and informative responses.