COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out across the country. We spoke with experts to learn more about the projected coronavirus vaccine timeline for kids.

Good news for parents across the country: COVID-19 vaccines have received official approval for kids ages 5-11. The FDA and CDC both gave the thumbs-up, which allows kids to get vaccinated immediately at pediatrician offices, hospitals, health departments, pharmacies, community centers, and more.

Pfizer is recommending that children ages 5 to 11 receive one-third of the adult dosage of its vaccine. It would be given as two doses, spaced three weeks apart. About 28 million children are included in this eligibility expansion (those 12 and up got the go-ahead for vaccination back in May).

Unfortunately, the vaccine approval can't be extended to younger kids just yet. On December 17, Pfizer announced that 2- to 4-year-olds didn't produce a sufficient immune response in clinical trials (those ages 6 months to 2 years had adequate immunity). They're testing a third low-dose shot of the vaccine, given two months after the initial vaccine series, in hopes of increasing effectiveness in younger kids. If all goes well, Pfizer is planning to submit data to regulators in the beginning of 2022, according to The Washington Post.

Keep reading for more about the projected timeline for COVID-19 vaccines and children, and learn why kids should definitely get vaccinated when they're eligible.

When Will a COVID-19 Vaccine Be Available for Children?

On May 10, Pfizer announced that its vaccine is approved for emergency use in children 12 and older—and on August 23, it received full FDA approval for those 16 and up. Now, with endorsement from the FDA and CDC, kids ages 5 to 11 years old are eligible for vaccination under emergency use authorization. That means all high schoolers and middle schoolers—and most elementary school students—are able to get vaccinated now.

These approvals aren't surprising. For the past several months, Pfizer has been conducting pediatric trials on children between ages 6 months and 12 years old. According to The New York Times, up to 4,500 children participated in these trials, which happened at more than 90 sites in the United States, Poland, Finland, and Spain. Based on early trials that assessed safety, kids between 5 to 11 years old received two doses of 10 micrograms each, which is one-third of the dose for adolescents and adults. Those younger than 5 years got two doses of 3 micrograms each.

Although Pfizer is conducting trials on kids 6 months to 5 years old, we still don't have a projected vaccine timeline for that younger age group. Clinical trials showed an inadequate immune response in 2- to 4-year-olds, although immunity was sufficient in those ages 6 months to 2 years old. Researchers are testing a third low-dose shot in this age group in hopes that it will increase effectiveness. Emergency use authorization will depend on the results of these trials.

Also, everyone ages 12 and up recently got approval for COVID-19 booster shots, given at least five months after the primary vaccine series. This should protect against waning immunity over time. And certain immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11 can receive a third dose of the vaccine 28 days after their second dose.

Father Putting Home Made Face Mask on Little Daughter
Credit: Getty Images

Why Were Children Initially Excluded from Clinical Trials?

COVID-19 vaccine approval took longer for younger children because they were initially excluded from clinical trials, which is an expected occurrence. "When testing vaccines, we usually start with adults and work down to children to establish safety data," says Christine Turley, M.D., Pediatrics Specialist and vice chair of research at Atrium Health Levine Children's. Kids have different bodies and immune systems than adults, so experts want to thoroughly understand how vaccines might react in their system.

Dr. Turley also cites ethical issues because children can't fully consent. Thanks to their still-developing brains, they have a harder time understanding potential consequences. "We want to make sure there aren't hidden risks for children. We're balancing the risks and benefits against what is ethically acceptable," explains Dr. Turley.

The good news is that the FDA compiled sufficient safety and efficacy data, which helped vaccine candidates progress to pediatric trials. Vaccine manufacturers "start by enrolling older children, then school-aged kids, then toddlers, then infants. That's because the risks for all of those children are different," explains Dr. Turley. With each age group, researchers will evaluate dosage, frequency, side effects, and other elements.

Should My Children Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19?

The COVID-19 vaccines prove effective against severe disease, hospitalization, and death—even with the highly transmissible Delta and Omicron variants. Indeed, according to the FDA, "Immune responses of children 5 through 11 years of age were comparable to those of individuals 16 through 25 years of age. In addition, the vaccine was found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in children 5 through 11."

It's true that most kids get mild cases of COVID-19, but several have died from the disease, and others have suffered from a mysterious life-threatening complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Kids can also transmit COVID-19 to higher-risk family members, who might develop more severe symptoms. Widespread vaccination could return things back to normal sooner, relieving some of the physical, mental, and psychological effects of the pandemic.

Parents shouldn't fear vaccines with FDA approval, adds Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy and Asthma Network and co-investigator on the vaccine trials. Pediatric clinical trial researchers thoroughly examine all aspects of the vaccine for kids, and they won't give approval until they're absolutely sure of its safety. Therefore, if the vaccine becomes available to your kid, experts stress the importance of getting it.