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How important will it be to vaccinate adolescents and children in the efforts to reduce transmission of COVID-19?

This article was published on
May 11, 2021

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SciLine reaches out to our network of scientific experts and poses commonly asked questions about newsworthy topics. Reporters can use these responses in news stories, with attribution to the expert.

SciLine reaches out to our network of scientific experts and poses commonly asked questions about newsworthy topics. Reporters can use these responses in news stories, with attribution to the expert.

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What our experts say

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Expert Comments: 

C. Buddy Creech, MD, MPH

One common challenge in communicating the need for vaccination is that many have rightly identified themselves as low risk for COVID-19 complications. This is true—teenagers, by and large, are able to navigate COVID-19 without a great deal of difficulty. But we are vaccinating as many as we can not only to prevent complications in the individual, but also to provide protection to all in our community. This is a critical aspect of living in community with one another; there are times when we face something that we can only solve together. The pandemic is a prime example of this – we vaccinate to protect ourselves and to protect one another.

Richard Malley, MD

Including adolescents in our vaccine programs may well help in reducing onward transmission of COVID-19; it is less clear to what extent younger children—particularly those under 10—contribute to transmission, and therefore not clear that immunizing younger children will contribute significantly to herd immunity. This is a matter of debate, particularly given the limited vaccine supply and the devastating impact of the pandemic in many countries that so far have not had access to vaccine. It is helpful to note that countries like the UK and Israel have seen a dramatic impact of vaccination in their countries despite not having immunized any individual under the age of 16. This suggests that immunization of adolescents and children may not be absolutely necessary to reduce COVID-19 transmission and get a handle on the pandemic.

Robert A. Bednarczyk, PhD

We have recently seen more transmission of COVID-19 among children, adolescents, and young adults. Right now, it is unclear if this is due to how people are coming together, emergence and wider spread of COVID-19 variants, or a greater recognition of disease in these younger groups. Regardless of the reason, it is important to protect the health of our children and adolescents, and vaccinating these groups not only helps them, but helps prevent the spread of the virus more widely across the population.

Paul Spearman, MD

This is probably very important as well. We think of giving this vaccine to 12-15 year-olds first for the benefit to their own health, and second to the contribution it makes to stop spread to anyone who may be susceptible to COVID. Even though schools have not been a major source of outbreaks, there will always be potential to spread the virus in indoor group settings including schools until everyone is vaccinated.

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