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Moderna Begins Testing COVID-19 Vaccine in Babies and Children

A mom wearing a mask holds her baby as a doctor gives her a vaccine in her leg.
hobo_018 / Getty Images.

Key Takeaways

  • Moderna has begun testing its COVID-19 vaccine on children participating in its KidCOVE trial.
  • The trial will include around 6,750 kids between the ages of 6 months and 11 years old.
  • If proven safe and effective, a COVID-19 vaccine for kids may become available this fall. 

When will kids get vaccinated against COVID-19? It’s one of the biggest questions on the minds of parents around the world. 

While there’s no firm answer just yet, Moderna may have brought us one step closer to immunizing children this week. The company announced that it has begun testing its COVID-19 vaccine on babies and kids as part of its KidCOVE study. 

The Moderna vaccine was the second one, after Pfizer’s, to receive emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention of severe COVID-19 in mid-December, but only for use in people age 18 and up. 

If the clinical testing shows that the Moderna vaccine is safe and effective in children, it could pave the way for vaccinating a younger population against COVID-19 later this year. 

Here’s what to know about Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trial on children and what it could mean for ending the pandemic.

Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine Trial on Kids

Moderna announced in a press release on March 16, 2021, that it has given the mRNA-1273 COVID-19 vaccine to kids participating in the KidCOVE trial. The study is being conducted by both Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It will include a total of around 6,750 kids between the ages of 6 months to under 12 years old in the United States and Canada. 

Throughout the study, researchers will be evaluating whether the vaccine is safe for kids and can provide an immune response that protects children from COVID-19. 

The trial will use the same COVID-19 vaccine and schedule of two shots 28 days apart that already is authorized for emergency use in adults, but at different dosages. It will be tested at the full adult dose, as well as a half dose and quarter dose, to determine which is most effective as a kids’ vaccine.

Tanya Altmann, MD

Kids aren’t just small adults, they often respond to vaccines and medications differently.

— Tanya Altmann, MD

“Kids aren’t just small adults, they often respond to vaccines and medications differently,” explains Tanya Altmann, MD, pediatrician at Calabasas Pediatrics, an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson, and author of “Baby and Toddler Basics.”

“Some vaccines infants get are at a lower dose than the adults vaccines, and there are some where infants get a higher dose," says Altmann. "It has to do with the way their immune system responds to the vaccines, which we won’t know until those trials are done.”

The trial is the latest in Moderna’s research on COVID-19 vaccines for kids. In December, the company started vaccinating the 3,000 adolescents between 12 and 17 years old participating in its TeenCOVE trial. The KidCOVE study may eventually open the door for a much younger group of children to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

When Will We Get a Kids’ Vaccine for COVID-19?

It’s too early to say exactly when there will be a COVID-19 vaccine for kids, but research is well underway from other drug companies, in addition to Moderna. Pfizer, which makes a COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use in people as young as 16, finished enrolling children between 12 and 15 years old in a new trial in late January. 

Johnson & Johnson also has said it will test its vaccine in teenagers, and soon after include babies and pre-adolescents in a study.

“Within six months, we’re probably going to see an age indication of 12 years and above for a COVID-19 vaccine based on some of the studies that have already been done,” says Danelle Fisher, MD, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

“Within the next 12 months, we’ll hopefully see a vaccine for children 6 months and above, which is a timeline that’s consistent with what other doctors and experts are saying,” says Fisher.

Danelle Fisher, MD

Within the next 12 months, we’ll hopefully see a vaccine for children 6 months and above.

— Danelle Fisher, MD

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has painted an even more optimistic picture, predicting in mid-February that the coronavirus vaccine may become available for children as young as first graders by September. 

Exactly when the FDA will allow COVID-19 vaccines to be given to children will ultimately depend on how quickly the trial data comes in, and whether it shows these vaccines are both safe and effective in younger people.

“In some cases, the pediatric trials can go faster, but in other cases it can take longer because it depends on whether the companies are going for emergency use authorization, or full FDA approval. It will depend on how their trials are going,” says Altmann. 

Importance of Protecting Kids Against COVID-19

Even though children tend to get sick from COVID-19 at much lower rates and severity than older adults, it’s still important to get them vaccinated once a shot is approved, experts say. 

The disease is associated with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a serious condition that can cause permanent damage to vital organs and even death, warns Fisher. More than 2,600 kids across the country have had MIS-C, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last updated March 1. 

Getting kids vaccinated against COVID-19 is also an important milestone in returning to a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy, especially in schools.

“I don’t think the vaccine is absolutely needed to get kids back to school. We have a lot of data that shows kids can be in school safely when we’re distancing, masking, washing hands, and following protocols. But once kids are vaccinated, it will make everyone feel a lot better and we may be able to get rid of these extra steps we’re doing in school,” says Altmann.

In the meantime, experts urge people to continue doing their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. “If we don’t keep masking, distancing, and following protocols, we could see a resurgence of COVID-19,” says Altmann. “We’re so close to ending this pandemic, and I hope everyone can hold on for a few more months.”

What This Means For You

Moderna has started testing its COVID-19 vaccine on children between 6 months and 12 years old. It’s the latest in a series of trials looking at whether existing COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in kids. 

While it’s too early to say exactly when kids will get vaccinated, experts predict it could happen for adolescents as early as this fall. A vaccine for babies and very young children may become available in early 2022. In the meantime, doctors urge people to continue doing their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Moderna. Moderna announces first participants dosed in phase 2/3 study of COVID-19 vaccine candidate in pediatric population. Published March 16, 2021.

  2. Moderna. Moderna announces first participants dosed in phase 2/3 study of COVID-19 vaccine candidate in adolescents. Published December 10, 2020.

  3. American Hospital Association. Pfizer finishes enrolling children 12-15 in COVID-19 vaccine study. Published January 25, 2021.

  4. Chen C. Fauci: vaccines for kids as young as first graders could be authorized by September. ProPublica. Published February 11, 2021. 

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Department-reported cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) in the United States. Published March 4, 2021.