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Why isn't the COVID-19 vaccine available for kids?

The major drug companies with successful vaccines say they'll start testing on younger patients early in 2021.

TAMPA, Fla. — Healthcare workers and seniors in assisted living facilities are receiving the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine across the United States.

Law enforcement, first responders and other essential workers are next in line for vaccine distribution. Community-wide access to the vaccine won't be available until spring of 2021.

This priority list has many parents wondering, why aren't kids on the list yet? 

Children are not approved to receive this first batch of the COVID-19 vaccine because they weren't included in the initial clinical trials. That's not unusual though.

Clinical trials often start with adults because children are still developing and could have varying reactions to the medications given out. In this case, children were also not a priority as the virus mostly affects older patients.

"The reason children were not considered initially is because people less than 21 years of age, although they make up 26 percent of the population, only make up .08 percent deaths," said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

COVID-19 has been linked to a serious illness in children called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, so a vaccine is still important to develop for children.

In order to create a safe vaccine for kids, drug companies will have to enroll younger patients in their clinical trials. This can come with a number of extra layers to go through, since trials need both parental and child consent. Children's immune systems are also different from adults, so additional data is needed before starting a trial.

Major drug companies with adult COVID-19 vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, have both started the process for clinical trials with younger patients. Moderna will test the vaccine in kids ages 12 to 17. Pfizer has already started testing on children as young as 12. 

It could be months before a vaccine is approved for children, but drug companies hope to have successful trials before the start of school in the fall of 2021.

RELATED: Smaller pharmacies prepare for vaccines in rural areas

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