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Corona vaccination for teenagers and children: when will it be released

Although children rarely experience severe disease, many experts believe that they should be vaccinated.

But it will be a long time before a vaccine is approved for teenagers or the youngest. Such approval is associated with high hurdles.

Vaccine manufacturers are currently testing their vaccines in all child age groups. A vaccination release for teenagers could possibly come this year.

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: First, 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 have a 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 hospitalization 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. If this study is positive, the vaccine could be used in teenagers from early 2022.

There are two reasons for this relatively slow progress compared to the release of vaccines in adults: On the one hand, it is legally and ethically much more complex 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 late summer or autumn at the latest…“

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".

This is true even within the group of children. The approval of vaccines for young children faces significantly higher hurdles than those for teenagers. For the latter, however, things could happen relatively quickly now, as the test phases in this group have been running for almost a year.

Jörg Dötsch, President of the German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine assumes that teenagers could even be vaccinated this year and that "we will get a vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds in late summer or autumn at the latest."

"It will probably take longer for smaller children," continues Dötsch. Tests are already underway among the youngest; AstraZeneca began a trial of its vaccine in 6-17 year olds in the UK in February 2021, and Biontech and Pfizer started testing in under 12 year olds in March. However, no more precise date can be given for this group.

tf / with dpa