Now that Pfizer has applied for emergency use of their COVID vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11, you may have a lot of questions about what happens next. So I thought it may be prudent to issue some predictions regarding how the next several months will go in the fight against the pandemic. Please note that this information is not based on any secret information or a behind-the-scenes look at the CDC; it is merely based on observations over the last year-and-a-half and what previous actions can predict about the future.
Firstly, you may be wondering just how long it will take for the FDA to grant emergency use authorization for children. When this first began, I was a little skeptical that the FDA would grant emergency use for a vaccine intended for children at all. I thought they would instead wait for the full authorization before granting access to this next age group. After all, the ramifications of approving a drug that either doesn’t work or has some side effects is much more severe when we’re dealing with children than adults. However, that does not seem to be the case. The FDA will likely be granting emergency use authorization sometime in mid-to-late October, with shots to the arm ready to be administered to your child by November. The Pfizer shot will be a smaller dose than it is for adults - which makes sense - and there will once again be a need for two doses issued three weeks apart.
It is important to remember that at that time, only Pfizer will be available. Moderna, like it was the first time around, is reported to be about a month behind, so if all goes according to plan, that vaccine will likely be granted the same authorization sometime in late November or so. There has been no solid news about the Johnson & Johnson version as of yet, but it is safe to assume that the J&J vaccine will not be ready by the end of 2021.
With that out of the way, let’s have some fun and try to determine the timeline for vaccine adoption and its ramifications. When determining this, we must acknowledge the three major differences between the rollout for adults versus children. Firstly, there will likely be no tiered system. When the vaccine first rolled out in December 2020, there were certain individuals who were given access earlier than others. Those were based on different variables in each state, usually dependent upon age, job, and medical condition. This was to combat a limited supply of the vaccine. That will not be an issue this time, as the vaccine will be widely available and in good supply. There will be no reason to ration it, and all children will be eligible as soon as the FDA says so.
The second difference is that this time, we will be issuing the vaccine to children, and although there may have been an early adopter when it came to adults, that same person may be a little more hesitant when it comes to getting their eight-year-old jabbed. People are generally more cautious when it comes to protecting their children than protecting themselves.
Lastly - and this counters the second difference - parents are worried about the possibility of having to keep their children home for extended periods of time just because they came into contact with a COVID-positive individual. Back when the vaccine was only approved for adults, quarantining was not that big of a worry because most people were not going out anyway. If a quarantine happens now, that could put a monkey wrench in parents’ planning. Many people are back in the office. Having to stay home with a child for 10 days and missing work is a pretty strong motivator to just stick out the arm. This one is not as strong of a needle-mover (pun fully intended) as the first two differences, but it should be acknowledged.
In order to create a timeline for this, we will be using the technology adoption curve, of which you will be able to find a visual somewhere on this page. There is no category for “innovators” here, since the people who innovated presumably are not children, and have likely already received the vaccine. “Early adopters” will account for the first 16% of the population and will likely be completed by the end of November. These are the people who are just waiting for the FDA say the word, and they will be on line with their kids as soon as they can. Children of these parents will have at least the first jab within six weeks of the approval.
Next will come the “early majority.” These parents will wait around long enough to see that nothing significant happened to the early adopters and decide that the vaccine is safe enough. This will be a larger segment of the timeline. The 34% of the population that fall into this category will likely be finished by sometime in February.
It will be at this time that two key events will happen. First, the federal and state governments will begin to set goals of how many children need to be inoculated in order for herd immunity to take effect, hopefully persuading the next group of the “late majority” to get going. The second event will be that it is the dead of winter, and parents will be getting a little annoyed about having their kids home a lot for the third consecutive school year. This will likely motivate the late majority to drag their kids in for the shot.
Generally, the late majority is the same size as the early majority, but again, because these are children, I could see this being the place where the curve changes. This will likely not be the same 34% the curve is used to and will likely be in the area of 10-15%. At this point, the population of children inoculated will be stagnant at around 60-65%, coming up just short of the government’s intended goal of 70% to reach herd immunity.
This is when the talks of mandates for children in school will intensify, and the news cycle will generally focus on whether it’s a good idea, if it’s constitutional, or if it will even work. But my guess is that if we are to reach that point, it will be sometime around Pesach next year, which, if I am right, will be the time that mask mandates and requirements to show a vaccine card will start to come down - a nice addition to z’man cheiruseinu. However, I also believe that if the last group of laggards grows too big, we may not reach that point for a few years still. It will all come down to the messaging put forth by government officials, and how they plan to deal with those who do not intend on getting the vaccine. If we do not hit the magic number the government sets for us by Pesach, buckle up, because the restrictions we see now may not be going anywhere for a long, long time.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.