The Real Reason Some Under-18 Teens Can Only Get Certain COVID Vaccines

You might be wondering why some teens can get one of the COVID-19 vaccines, but can't get the others. There are three approved vaccines in the United States — PfizerModerna, and Johnson & Johnson. Currently, teens ages 16 and 17 can only get the Pfizer vaccine because that is the age limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Vaccines go through a process to be approved for public use from trial studies, then an FDA decision, and an ACIP determination. 

You have to be 18 or older to get the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Why? It's all about how each company conducted their clinical trials on anyone under 18 years old (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), and the bottom line is, younger age groups weren't included in many of these trials.  

The CDC has a page for each vaccine on their website and you can see what the age limits are for Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Before these vaccines were authorized for use in the United States, they conducted studies to determine how well they worked, what side effects they might cause, and how safe they were. The ages and number of participants in each of the studies determined the age groups eligible for the vaccines. 

Age guidelines are based on the clinical trials that have been conducted

Pfizer tested their vaccine on people as young as 12, while Moderna and Johnson & Johnson only tested their vaccines on people aged 18 and older. Pfizer didn't get approval for giving their vaccine to kids ages 12 to 15 because there weren't enough people in this age group in the clinical trials to ensure its effectiveness and safety. The rules for approving a vaccine for children are different than those for adults (via the Cleveland Clinic).

But new clinical trials are underway for children. Pfizer has recruited 2,200 kids ages 12 to 15 that are currently undergoing the trials (via Moderna has completed clinical trials on their vaccine on 3,000 kids ages 12 to 17 and is now testing 6,750 babies and children ages 6 months to 11 years old. And Johnson & Johnson is getting ready to recruit children for their vaccine clinical trials (via Chemical and Engineering News).

COVID-19 vaccines might be ready for middle and high school-aged kids by the end of the summer, which would be perfect timing with the new school year starting. Younger kids will likely have to wait a few more months (via CNN), but this progress is certainly good news.