As the Pfizer vaccine awaits emergency authorization as soon as early next week from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in young adolescents ages 12 to 15, Miguela Caniza, MD MPH, Director of the St. Jude Global Infectious Diseases Program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a leader in tracking COVID-19 in pediatric populations spoke out today on the important role children will play in helping to achieve herd immunity against the virus.

“In order to achieve the two-thirds threshold necessary for herd immunity, childhood vaccinations are a key component,” said Dr. Caniza.  “Even if we immunize all adults in the United States against COVID-19, we still only get to 74% of the population protected.  As vaccine hesitancy and the spread of variants become a growing crisis, being able to vaccinate children safely and effectively against COVID-19 will be a critically important step in helping us to control the virus.”

When the coronavirus first emerged, Dr. Caniza urged her colleagues of infectious disease leaders from 24 countries who were gathering at St. Jude to set aside their agendas and immediately focus on the virus. Those discussions led to the establishment of a registry tracking COVID-19 in childhood cancer patients around the world. She and her colleagues were recently featured in the Commercial Appeal for their initial and continuing efforts to track the emergency of the novel coronavirus in children.

“Children and teenagers are highly mobile populations attending schools, sports, extracurricular activities and intersecting more often with various age groups including caretakers and older family members,” Dr. Caniza continued.  “Because of the high percent of children and teenagers being asymptomatic or with minimal symptoms, most likely they will be effectively spreading during a very contagious period, and even more so, if they don’t follow the standard precautions (distancing, using masks and practicing hand hygiene).