We have had the Covid-19 vaccine for almost a year now; the Pfizer version is now fully approved for adults and for children 12 and older, so the focus is now naturally on availability for children ages 5-11. On November 2, The FDA finally approved emergency use of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old, and federal officials say they are ready to begin administering as many as 20 million doses of the vaccine to children across the U.S. That is enough doses to give 2 shots to all 28 million eligible children ages 5-11. So why has it taken so long for us to get to this point, and will we soon see a large number of young children being vaccinated in this country?
Why The Push For a Vaccine?
At the beginning of the pandemic, children rarely got severely ill from Covid-19, but the Delta variant has changed that: almost 30,000 children were hospitalized in August alone from the highly contagious variant. Not only that, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in four children were infected with Covid last month: that makes a grand total of nearly 5.9 million Americans younger than 18 having been infected, with roughly 791 dead from the virus, 172 of them ages 5-11.
“With new cases in children in the U.S. continuing to be at a high level, this submission is an important step in our ongoing effort against Covid-19,” a Pfizer official said.
Why the Delay?
The vaccine has taken much longer to be administered to children than to adults because, as experts point out, creating a vaccine for children is not merely a matter of reducing the dose of the adult version by a predetermined amount. That means researchers have been hard at work determining the correct formulation and have put the children’s version of the shot through vigorous trials.
The Pfizer vaccine trial included 2,268 children, two-thirds of whom received two 10-microgram doses of the vaccine 3 weeks apart; the other participants were injected with 2 doses of saltwater placebo. The data the drug companies presented to the FDA showed that the vaccine was 90.7% effective against symptomatic Covid. The antibody response to the vaccine was comparable to the one seen in people 16 to 25 years old.
The most common side effects were pain at the injection site, fatigue, and head and muscle aches, but kids who get the vaccine feel “ultimately fine in two or three days,” says Dr. Ibukunoluwa Kalu, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Duke University. The Pfizer vaccine has also been linked to rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults, particularly young men, but Pfizer has said they did not see any instances of heart inflammation in the trial participants.
The two drug makers (Pfizer and BioNTech) are also testing the vaccine in children ages 2 to 5 years old and children ages 6 months to 2 years, with data expected in the fourth quarter.
Guidelines for Children Getting Vaccinated
After November 2nd, when the FDA approved the emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, millions of doses began being shipped across the country. Each child will have to take 2 10-microgram doses of the vaccine (which is about one-third of the adult dose), 3 weeks apart to be considered fully vaccinated.
Experts are recommending that, even if the child was exposed to Covid, they should still get the vaccine, since natural immunity offers some protection, but no one is sure how long this natural immunity lasts. It is also recommended that children continue to wear masks indoors after getting vaccinated.
Will You Vaccinate Your Children?
State and federal officials, along with healthcare providers, believe that vaccinating children is more challenging than vaccinating adults.
Pediatricians are urging parents not to wait: “You can’t wait until millions and millions of doses are given before you decide, because this virus is going to take every opportunity it can to infect someone,” says Dr. Tina Tan, pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Northwestern and Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
“Because the delta variant is that much more transmissible, kids can get delta and can get quite sick from it,” says Tan. “You cannot predict — in a normal healthy child — who’s going to get very sick and who’s not. [Vaccinating] is the best way to protect your child against getting severe COVID illness.”
However, parents are still divided on whether they will give their children the vaccine, or wait until they “see how it goes.” According to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about a third of parents of young children have said they are willing to wait longer to give their children the vaccine, one-third have said they are willing to give it to their children “right away,” and the remaining third have made it clear that they will “definitely not” get the Covid-19 vaccine for their children.