LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — 1.8 million children have been infected with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Vaccinations in adults began shortly after the US Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. However, the vaccines are not approved for most children.
Pfizer's vaccine has been approved for use in children as young as 16 years old. Moderna's vaccine has been approved for adults 18 and older.
While both companies are in the middle of vaccine trials in children older than 12 years old, CHI Saint Joseph Health's Dr. Sarah O'Leary explains it could take months before a vaccine is approved for this age group.
Dr. O'Leary says testing in children is more heavily scrutinized.
"In general, the scientific community is very protective of kids, so sometimes it's a little harder to get those studies done," she said. "We can't give the vaccines that are available now to kids just because they haven't been studied or approved in kids right now."
But it is not because the vaccine is necessarily less safe for children than for adults. Dr. O'Leary explained it is a matter of how much data and information is available.
"We don't have any reason to think they'll be more dangerous or less effective in kids, but we need to have more numbers and more people get it in trials first before we can recommend it," she said.
While data shows fewer children fall seriously ill with COVID-19 than adults, Dr. O'Leary stressed the importance of seeking the vaccine once one becomes available. There are cases where the virus can be deadly in younger children.
"As far as we know, the risks to the vaccine are way less than the risks of actually having the disease. That's how I think about that is; we know getting COVID could be dangerous. We don't have any reason to think the shot is dangerous," said Dr. O'Leary.
Kentucky's guidelines on re-opening schools to in-person learning say counties must fall below a "red zone" COVID-19 positivity rate. The goal is the adult vaccine will bring case numbers down, ultimately re-opening schools to in-person learning. However, it is unclear whether a vaccine will be available for children before this happens.
If schools resume before a vaccine is available for children, Dr. O'Leary told LEX 18 News the best way to keep the community safe is to continue following the CDC's safety guidelines for schools.
"That's all we can do to make school as safe as can be at this time," said Dr. O'Leary.
Dr. O'Leary added we could likely expect to continue following safety guidelines for the foreseeable future as we wait for a vaccine for every age group.