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There could be "enough information to be able to safely vaccinate children of virtually any age" by the end of the year, Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a White House COVID-19 response briefing April 2, pointing to recent data from Pfizer on the safety and efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said Friday that they had requested FDA permission to allow adolescents age 12 to 15 to receive the shots, after a trial of the vaccine in that age group showed it was safe and fully effective. The company previously said it hopes the Food and Drug Administration will clear their shots for adolescents "before the start of the next school year."
Pfizer also said it expects results ahead of schedule for its pediatric trials in younger children, with data "in the second half of 2021." That could allow for the FDA to greenlight vaccinations for children as young as 6 months old "by early 2022."
Moderna announced last month that it had kicked off trials of its own COVID-19 vaccine for participants as young as 6 months old. The company has yet to report results from their trial in adolescents, which started in December.
Fauci, who helms the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is helping to conduct vaccine trials for both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, had initially predicted back in January that that the FDA might allow for vaccinations of American children "by the time we get to the late spring and early summer."
He revised that forecast in February, saying that vaccinations for high schoolers might come "by the beginning of fall," but perhaps too late for "the first day of school." Data on the safety and efficacy of the shots in elementary school-age kids would not come until early 2022, both Fauci and drugmakers had predicted.
Now Fauci believes pediatric trials for both Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines could meet their goals by the end of the year, an NIAID official asked to clarify Fauci's remarks tells CBS News.
"With regard to adolescent populations, the goal obviously is to vaccinate the entire population. And children and adolescents make up about 22% of the population," said Fauci.
So far, except for a handful of errors, the nationwide vaccine rollout has not included children under 16. Currently, the FDA has authorized use of Pfizer's vaccine for recipients ages 16 and up. Moderna's and Johnson & Johnson's shots are allowed for ages 18 and up.
The news comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has continued to lay out new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans. The agency also recently loosened its guidance for spacing desks apart in classrooms, among several moves the Biden administration hopes will speed the reopening of schools.
Children are generally considered to be at lower risk of severe illness from COVID-19 than adults, but they can still catch it and spread it to others. Many children experience only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, but some have gotten severely ill or developed longer-term health problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports there have been more than 3.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in children and at least 279 deaths.
"We all want to return to the things we love. Getting more people vaccinated as quickly as possible and taking prevention measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 is the path out of this pandemic and back to our everyday activities," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.