Vaccine Roundtable at the World Vaccine Congress Washington 2021

Lois Levine

At the virtual World Vaccine Congress Washington 2021, scientists and pediatricians discussed the pros and cons of vaccinating children and adolescents against COVID-19.

At the virtual World Vacccine Congress Washington that took place May 4 through 6, 2021, a roundtable titled “COVID-19 disease and vaccines for adolescents and pediatrics” highlighted both concerns and hopes for scientists and physicians as vaccines for adolescents and children come to market in the United States and elsewhere. The roundtable was moderated by Lynlee Burton, head of the Center for Vaccine Research and Emerging Infectious Disease at PRA Health Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Dr Jay M. Lieberman, senior medical director at PRA Health Sciences.

One question raised was whether or not vaccines are even needed for children against COVID-19, given that children are much less likely to develop the disease and are not major players in spreading. Dr Wanda Dobrzanski-Nisiewicz, a pediatrician based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, answered with a definitive yes. “What we have seen in colleges, and at children’s hospitals, especially with children who have had previous illnesses, is that they can be very vulnerable. And now, with schools fully opening, infections can spread between adults and kids.“ Dr Dobrzanski-Nisiewicz, who has been actively involved in COVID-19 pediatric trials, also noted that there are bigger challenges with children in trials, 1 of which is “getting adolescents to complete their diaries in the proper way.” Lynlee Burton brought up the fact that her daughters, 1 of whom “hates needles,” just do not feel they are a part of the crisis. “They don’t feel it’s about them, so it’s difficult for me to give them good ammunition. My daughter’s friends say, ‘if we get it, it won’t be that bad, so what’s the big deal?’ How do I message that?”

Dr Lieberman responded to that by noting, “the role children play is in the transmission of the virus. The variants are now showing that children do play a more important role, and I hear of more children now becoming infected and getting sick. So one of the primary reasons to explain to children why they need to get vaccinated is that they do play an important community role when it comes to transmission.” Amy Marquardt, a scientist at PPD, noted “I know a lot of family members, including kids, don’t realize that further down the line, there could be problems even after getting COVID-19. We still don’t know enough about long-term effects.”

Dr Lieberman offered up a compelling question to the roundtable by asking, “If you feel parents are hesitating about getting their children vaccinated, what information do you think they need to see before they can feel comfortable?” Jason Zhang, a scientist with Zoetis, notes his wife feels somewhat hesitant right now, and said, “she just wants to wait about 6 months to see if there are any side effects. We have a 7 year-old-daughter, and another girl a little older. When the HPV vaccine came out, my wife had similar concerns. We just don’t know the long lasting side effects, so it is a matter of just waiting a bit. Parents are saying the kids can just wear masks, so they don’t feel an urgency.”

But Jeff Moore, president of MP Healthcare Venture Management, countered that, saying it was important to vaccinate children as quickly as possible because, “there is always a chance that a new variant will come out and be much more pathogenic to kids: we need to be aware of that as well.”