Why Parents Shouldn't Lie About Child's Age To Get COVID Vaccine Early

In the past weeks, reports have emerged indicating that some parents have been lying about the age of their children in order to get them vaccinated against COVID-19 before the new school year starts.

Children under the age of 12 are currently not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While studies assessing the vaccines in 5-to-11 year-olds are underway, an emergency use authorization for this age group may not come until later this year, or perhaps even next year.

Experts who spoke to Newsweek urged any parents thinking about lying to health authorities to avoid doing so because of the potential risks involved.

Lisa Lee, an epidemiologist, bioethicist, and ethics educator from Virginia Tech, told Newsweek: "Of the numerous risks involved with misrepresenting a child's age to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the most important one is that we are still figuring out the safest and most effective dose for children under 12."

"Kids are not simply 'little adults'—their immune systems are developing and we must consider this when calculating what vaccine dose is appropriate for children of a particular age," she said.

According to Lee, other risks include introducing incorrect information into your child's vaccination record, which could result in over- or under-vaccination with later doses.

Dr. Greg Poland, a vaccine researcher and infectious disease specialist from the Mayo Clinic, told Newsweek that we don't yet know what the risks of vaccinating children under 12 might be since the studies have not been completed, although he does not anticipate any concerns beyond what we already know about the shots.

"We can't know [if the vaccines will have a similar safety and efficacy profile in under 12s] until we do the studies—and remember that various dose regimens will be used, and that too can alter, positively or negatively, safety and efficacy," he said.

COVID-19 vaccines in 5-to-11-year-olds are being studied now and Lee said we could expect authorization as soon as all the data are in.

"Through the current studies with children ages 5 to 11 years, we will be able to determine an appropriate dose that gives us a similar safety and efficacy profile," she said. "We use a process called 'age de-escalation' where we work backward from adults so we can test the right doses for younger and younger children."

"Different vaccines have different responses in children—some need a larger dose, some need a smaller dose, some need the same dose. We are finding out the best dose for safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines using this process."

Lawrence Kleinman, a children's health expert with the Department of Pediatrics at Rutgers RWJ Medical School, also said he does not advise parents to deceive clinicians or health care provider organizations.

"I appreciate parents' anxiety and desire the get their children vaccinated and as parent of a young child, I share it," he told Newsweek.

But while he agreed that the safety profile of the vaccines will likely be similar in young children, "specific details may be important and until they are reported we will not know, for example, the rate of heart inflammation associated with the vaccine. Details of dosing and timing of the vaccine may vary by age and so that is another reason to wait until approval, especially for younger children."

"I think it is not a good thing either to start medical care while telling a fib or to engage your child as a partner in such deception. The context of vaccine scarcity, when present, would introduce other public health and ethical considerations that advise against this."

Nevertheless, all of the experts said it is important to vaccinate children under 12 as soon as health officials authorize the shots for this age group, given the development of highly transmissible variants, with potentially greater virulence and severity.

"Given that the delta variant is even more contagious than the initial COVID-19 virus, it is more important than ever to vaccinate the entire population," Lee said.

"When we determine the safe and effective dosage for children under 12, we must get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Until then, the best thing we can do to protect them is to ensure that everyone 12 and over who can get vaccinated gets vaccinated."

Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine being prepared
A first dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a mobile clinic during a back-to-school event offering vaccinations for children and their families at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA in Los Angeles, California on August 7, 2021. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images