But as a group, the experts surveyed were unconflicted about vaccinating children. Many cited the risk of long-term physical and neurological effects of Covid-19, which are still unknown in children. And they worried about new variants of the virus that could become more dangerous for children.
“We’re still learning about the long-term effects of Covid-19 in asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic previously healthy individuals,” said Ms. Ergas, of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “I’m not panicked about my kids getting Covid, but I’d rather they didn’t.”
Others were more concerned. “I suspect that a proportion of children who have a Covid-19 infection will go on to have problems that are due to inflammation,” said Dr. Jessica Ericson, an infectious disease pediatrician at Penn State College of Medicine. “The long-term consequences of Covid-19 are unknown at this point, but unlikely to be zero. This is in contrast to vaccination, which has no plausible long-term consequences.”
Beyond children’s health, they said, pediatric vaccines were necessary for the greater good. The pandemic is unlikely to end in the United States until children are vaccinated, they said. Even though children are less likely than adults to spread the coronavirus, as long as the virus can replicate, it will mutate, whether carriers are symptomatic adults or asymptomatic children. Also, even if Americans achieve widespread immunity, the virus will continue to spread and mutate in parts of the world without the same access to vaccines.
“It’s a big, altruistic ask for below-12s to be vaccinated in large numbers,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine. “The overwhelming majority of cases are not going to be sick. It’s not for their benefit; it’s to prevent them from spreading it to others.”
Dr. Andrew Handel, an infectious disease pediatrician at Stony Brook Medicine, said: “Once approved, I will enthusiastically have my children vaccinated. These vaccines are the best solution we have to the tremendous damage posed by this disease.”
The costs of isolation
Even as the experts urged continued caution until a pediatric vaccine arrives, they also emphasized that parents needed to weigh the risks of continued social isolation. Over all, the experts were somewhat more concerned about the mental health consequences of the pandemic for children than about its effects on their physical health.