Fall — for most parents, it’s the season for back-to-school shopping, pumpkin spice treats, Halloween costumes and slow cooker meals. This fall, it looks like we can add COVID-19 vaccination for kids to the schedule.
COVID-conscious parents everywhere have been waiting for news about a possible vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Kids age 12 and older have been able to receive Pfizer’s vaccine since May, and the drugmaker recently announced that a smaller dose — one-third of the dose given to adolescents and adults — of its vaccine is effective at preventing infection, severe illness and death in younger children.
What Pfizer’s vaccine trial revealed
More than 2,200 children ages 5 to 11 were included in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial, which found that its vaccine demonstrated strong immune response in these younger children one month after the second dose. Additionally, the vaccine was well tolerated by this age group, with participants in the trial experiencing mild side effects comparable to those seen among people ages 16 to 25.
Upon release of its findings, the company announced they will soon seek emergency use authorization (EUA) for this age group from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once this occurs, FDA officials expect to review and grant EUA for the vaccine within weeks if it is determined that it is safe and effective, and kids ages 5 to 11 could begin to receive the first of their two shots around Halloween.
“The data surrounding the trial will need to be examined and verified by the CDC and FDA before this is authorized in children,” says Dr. Abisola Olulade, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “But I know that parents are feeling a lot of relief, seeing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines for their younger children.”
Vaccine authorization to come when it’s most needed
Word of the potential authorization of the vaccine for ages 5 to 11 comes just days after the American Academy of Pediatrics announced that COVID-19 cases in children have “increased exponentially,” with more than 925,000 cases in kids reported between mid-August and mid-September. While COVID-19-related death remains rare in children, there is concern that infection could lead to severe illness, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), and long-term impacts.
“The CDC reported that the number of cases in children went up almost 240% since July, and hospitalizations went up almost five times, especially in areas where vaccination rates are low,” Dr. Olulade says. “Children can also suffer long-term adverse health consequences from COVID — another reason why getting them vaccinated is so important.”
In San Diego, overall cases of COVID-19 in children and youth have been decreasing since late August. However, outbreaks in school settings have increased, and there is concern that as more children go back to school, cooler weather prevails and holiday gatherings are held, this trend could continue as we head into winter, putting students, faculty and staff — and their family members — at risk for infection and illness.
Keeping kids under 12 safe before vaccination
Until the vaccines receive EUA, Dr. Olulade says that it is vital that adults and adolescents who are eligible for vaccination get their shots as soon as possible. Getting vaccinated decreases the spread of COVID-19 in the community and protects infants and children under 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated.
“Increased spread of COVID in the community puts children at great risk,” she says. “There is a safe and effective vaccine that can prevent you and your children from ending up in the ICU or dying from COVID.”
The CDC also recommends universal masking in schools and for people age 2 and older in indoor public spaces and child care centers. Continued practice of other common prevention tactics, such as regular hand-washing and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, is also important.
“The best thing to do is to get vaccinated and get your children 12 and over vaccinated until vaccination for all ages is approved,” Dr. Olulade says. “The decision to not get vaccinated is a decision to take a grave risk with COVID, and the odds are not good.”