- New research finds that getting vaccinated doesn’t just help protect you from COVID-19, it also helps protect those around you who haven’t yet been vaccinated — including young kids.
- The research appears to verify that the vaccine may be helping lower transmission rates in some unvaccinated populations. However, experts caution this is just one study, and more research is needed.
- The continued use of masks and physical distancing are still recommended until herd immunity is achieved.
A recent review of nearly 3.5 million COVID-19 test results from between July 5, 2020, and March 9, 2021, indicates some promising news.
According to its findings, getting vaccinated doesn’t just help protect you from COVID-19, it also helps protect those around you — including those who haven’t yet been vaccinated.
This is good news for parents with young children who are not yet eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine or who may have a medical condition that prevents them from getting vaccinated.
“This study verifies what we all believed,” Amit Kumar, PhD, a veteran vaccine expert, researcher, scientist, and CEO of Anixa Biosciences, told Healthline.
He explained that while kids are less susceptible to developing symptomatic infections when exposed to the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, they can still carry the virus — oftentimes with little to no symptoms.
However, by vaccinating those around them, the chances that children will be exposed to the coronavirus go down. This makes it less likely they will transmit the virus to others.
Or at least, that was what researchers hoped to prove.
Dr. Sarah Browne, an infectious disease specialist and senior director of vaccine development at Altimmune, said that previous trials have demonstrated the vaccine’s ability to protect against COVID-19.
“What has been less clear is the degree to which the vaccines prevent the SARS-CoV-2 infection itself,” she explained. “If the vaccines are less effective at preventing asymptomatic infection than they are at preventing disease, vaccine recipients might be protected from disease but could still spread the infection to others.”
So, researchers set out to show whether the vaccine itself could prevent transmission.
“They looked at the relationship between rates of vaccination in a community to see if this had an impact on the rates of infection observed in the unvaccinated community members, in this case children, since the vaccines are not authorized for them,” Browne explained.
And in support of their hypothesis, those researchers found that as vaccination rates went up, the rate of unvaccinated people testing positive for COVID-19 went down.
While it’s definitely exciting to learn that the vaccine may be helping lower transmission rates in unvaccinated populations, this is just one study, and it hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed.
Experts caution that there’s still a great deal we don’t know about the coronavirus and how it spreads.
“It is likely that vaccination reduces overall spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the community,” Browne said. “There is still plenty of disease in circulation, and a large population of children, all unvaccinated, who also interact with each other.”
That means those kids will still be at risk until they’re able to get vaccinated themselves.
Which means that families should remain cautious, even in knowing they have more protection today than they had 6 months ago.
Kumar said it’s just a matter of time.
In fact, a recent clinical trial found that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for younger adolescents.
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has already been authorized for people over the age of 16, but following the results of the new clinical trial, pharmaceutical companies are now asking the FDA to allow vaccinations in children as young as 12.
“Some clinical studies in the young have already been conducted, and others for even younger children including toddlers are planned or are even in progress,” Kumar said.
Based on the results witnessed in recent studies, he said the scientific community believes the trials focusing on younger children will show the vaccines to be safe and effective in kids of all ages.
“However, it’s always prudent to complete the clinical trials to verify this hypothesis,” Kumar explained. “Most likely, we will complete clinical trials and have authorization to use the vaccines on kids in the fall.”
Until then, kids (and other unvaccinated people) still need to be protected. That means wearing masks, continuing to practice physical distancing, and getting vaccinated yourself as soon as you’re eligible.
“There is still a lot of skepticism about these vaccines and vaccines in general,” Kumar said. “People have to understand that if they are going to be members of society, they need to be vaccinated not only to protect themselves but also other members of society.”
People who claim it is a personal choice, he said, need to recognize they are making the choice for others as well.
“Vaccines have been the greatest medical tools humanity has developed to battle powerful and deadly infectious diseases,” Kumar said. “It would be a shame for people to not take advantage of this technology.”