Why Pfizer's vaccine is authorized for 16+, but Moderna's and J&J's is authorized for 18+

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Posted at 5:23 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 18:17:25-04

TAMPA, Fla. — As Florida moves to lower its vaccination age to include all adults by April 5, it’s important to note that, so far, Governor DeSantis has only lowered the eligibility to include adults ages 18 and older even though Pfizer's vaccine is technically authorized for those ages 16 and up.

So far, Pfizer is the only drug company that has gotten an Emergency Use Authorization for their vaccine for use in people younger than 18. Both Moderna and Johnson and Johnson have only gotten an EUA for those 18+.

There are likely several reasons for this, but one is likely the consent requirements for those under 18.

“The 16 and 17-year-old's require parental consent. So that’s why most trials start at 18 because 18-year-old's can sign their own consent form,” said Dr. Michael Teng, Associate Professor at USF.

Avoiding that extra step helps the first trial get up and running quicker, but Pfizer did take that step to get parental consent, and their first trial included 16 and 17-year-old's, whereas Moderna and Johnson and Johnson did not.

“Scientifically, I cannot think of a reason, biologically, that a 16-year-old is that much different than an 18-year-old,” said Dr. Teng.

While “biologically” a 16-year-old may not be much different than an 18-year-old, legally, they can’t vaccinate a 16-year-old when their EUA clearly states 18 and up.

“No company’s going to take the chance of vaccinating, saying that they can vaccinate under that because they’re legally responsible for anything that happens, you know, in the kind of very rare circumstance that something might be different,” said Dr. Teng.

But now, both Pfizer and Moderna are conducting additional trials for those 12 and up, and for those under 12.

“There certainly is a lot of interest, especially amongst school-age children, especially children who have opted to stay online this year. For some of them, getting vaccinated might be the reason that they choose to go back to school in person,” said Dr. Allison Messina, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Experts expect results from the 12-and-up trials sometime this summer, providing a glimmer of hope for those students and teachers heading back to school.

“Particularly for college-bound teens, that’s a big deal. A lot of them want to go back to school safely with their friends rather than have to spend their freshman year sitting in a dorm on Zoom,” said Dr. Messina.

And experts warn that a path toward herd immunity does include vaccinating kids.

As per Governor DeSantis’s order, only adults ages 18 and up will be eligible for the vaccine come April 5. We’re working to get information regarding when that might be lowered, specifically for the Pfizer vaccine, and we’ll bring you those details as we get them.