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COVID-19 Vaccines For Young Children Still Being Tested, Could Be Authorized By Fall 2021

A man gets a COVID-19 vaccine.
Matt Slocum
COVID-19 vaccines have been available for about seven months, but young children under the age of 12 still can't receive them.

On today’s program: COVID-19, while often less severe in young children, still requires vaccination for safety, so clinical trials on young children means getting parents as partners in the process and increased clinical scrutiny; two Bhutanese refugees fled their country, moving to Pittsburgh, eventually working with community members and other immigrants to help them feel welcome.

COVID-19 vaccines for kids still being tested, could be approved by this fall (0:00 - 7:33)

Adults have been able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for about seven months, and emergency authorization has been granted to young people ages 12 and up.

However, young children are still unable to get inoculated, and the research is still ongoing.

Dr. John Williams, the director of the Institute for Infection, Inflammation, and Immunity in Children at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine, says getting young children vaccinated against COVID is critical because the illness can cause inflammation in the heart.

The age group of kids being studied is six months to 11 years. Moderna and Pfizer have trials happening in this age group, but the clinical trials are different when working with kids.

“You know we take the safety of kids very, very seriously,” he says. “Safety is always the most important thing. The second thing is that children are smaller. And they’re not just little adults. And so, in children you often have to figure out is the dose of a vaccine or a drug different, and in fact that is part of these trials in younger children.”

Williams says doctors and researchers need to get parents on their side when engaging in care or trials.

“Most of us as parents value our children’s health more than we value our own health, I think it’s really important to remember with young kids, we’re both trying to protect them against serious outcomes, serious COVID is not very common in kids but it absolutely happens.”

He says his experience is that most parents have been eager to vaccinate kids because they know the risks associated with the disease.

“Man, if we can prevent that serious disease in our kids, that is a really easy choice. It’s like putting a seatbelt on your child.”

He says, parents and caregivers also know the way back to what was normal is for young children and adults to be vaccinated.

“I would like to see the vaccines available sooner rather than later, based on the timeline of how things have gone so far, it’s likely that it will be available for these kids maybe September, October,” Williams says.

Bhutanese refugees find their way to the Pittsburgh region and build community (7:34-18:30)

Sunday, June 20 was World Refugee Day. This year, the Biden administration raised the cap for those entering the country as refugees to about 62,000.

Pittsburgh has welcomed refugees to the region for decades. There are an estimated 5,000 Bhutanese people in the Pittsburgh area, the largest refugee group of any nationality in the region.

Bishnu Timsina fled Bhutan for political and religious reasons in 1992. Her parents were asked to leave the county, and she and her brother went with them. They originally went to New York City in 2009, but they found the city too big and expensive.

Januka Regmi also left Bhutan for political reasons, and she lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for almost 20 years, growing up in the camps. Regmi came to the United States in 2009.

Regmi says Bhutanese people come to the region because of family and friends. People met in refugee camps and stayed in touch, telling other families about jobs, schools and the geography, which is similar to that of Bhutan.

Timsina says she’s seen the Pittsburgh community become more welcoming since her arrival.

“I have been seeing the changes in the receiving community since we arrived, when we first came here, I used to feel that refugees were not very much welcomed. We had so many negative stories,” she says.

The Bhutanese community came up with the idea of forming its own organization to educate boroughs and communities about Bhutanese people and their history and culture.

Timsina says when she first came to Pittsburgh, her neighbors would come to her house for help with mail and bill payments. She says she wishes community resources were in place at that time rather than neighbors having to rely on each other for help.

“I think refugees are an asset to the Pittsburgh regions, especially when it comes to economic development,” Timsina says. “There are people willing to work. Any refugees coming from around the world, they are ready to take any job.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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