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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Now that Pfizer has applied for emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 12 to 15, we could see shots available for that age group by the fall.

Vaccine trials in younger children began recently, but it will likely be longer before they can get vaccinated.

CBS 17 asked an expert in pediatric infectious diseases what risks younger children face as COVID-19 variants become more widespread.

As more children go back to the classroom and get ready for summer activities, doctors say it’s important to keep COVID-19 precautions in mind.

“The good thing is, we know masking still works,” noted Dr. Ibukun Kalu, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Duke.

While she says the number of coronavirus cases in North Carolina children is lower than the post-holiday surge, other parts of country and the world are seeing more cases in children. Many of those are caused by COVID-19 variants, like the B.1.17. variant that originated in the U.K.

“What I’ve seen, especially from UK data, suggests that this virus is more transmissible across all age groups,” said Kalu.

CBS 17 asked if children infected with variants generally experience mild illness — like we often saw with the original strain of COVID — or whether they are experiencing more severe illness.

“Unfortunately, we have seen some increased reporting of severe illness with initial infection,” Dr. Kalu replied. “Some early reports from India, where they are seeing higher spread as well as variants, have suggested that we can see infections that are more severe in children or young adults.”

Dr. Kalu says it’s important to remember that masks and distancing can help protect children, and so could vaccines – even though the children, themselves, aren’t eligible yet.

“The more people who already can get a vaccine that actually do get vaccinated will help us in reducing spread and so we could potentially create that larger bubble effect around kids,” she said. “If they are not exposed to COVID-19, they will not spread it or get infected.”