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The White House announced plans Wednesday to “quickly” and “equitably” roll out the COVID-19 vaccine for children between ages 5 and 11, pending the green light from federal health officials.
More than 12% of Texas’ population is between the ages of 5 and 11, and with school back in session, the number of pediatric COVID-19 cases has reached new highs, leaving parents of younger children wondering when it will be their child’s turn to get the jab. While children over age 12 have been eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine since earlier this spring, clinical trials for younger children were ongoing until just last month.
The Biden administration stated Wednesday that it has secured enough supply to vaccinate the country’s 28 million children between ages 5 to 11. In an effort to “make vaccination accessible and conveniently located to families,” the administration is distributing more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of community health centers and clinics, and tens of thousands of pharmacies with child-sized doses of the vaccine.
It also will supply schools and other community-based sites with the vaccine via funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The administration also plans to launch national outreach efforts through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to reach parents and guardians with “accurate and culturally responsive information about the vaccine and the risks that COVID-19 poses to children,” the administration stated in its release.
Here’s what parents need to know about COVID-19 vaccinations for their younger children.
When will the vaccine for ages 5-11 become available?
Within weeks, say experts. The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 26 to discuss emergency use authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for this age group, which will be followed by a decision from the FDA commissioner.
This will allow jurisdictions such as states and cities to start ordering the child-sized dose of the vaccine, but they won’t be able to start administering them until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes an official recommendation on how to distribute the vaccines. The CDC’s vaccine committee is next scheduled to meet on Nov. 2 and 3.
“Everybody is basically in a holding pattern,” said University Health epidemiologist Dr. Jason Bowling.
In clinical trials, Pfizer has tested the vaccine on more than 2,200 children between the ages of 5 and 11. These children were given two doses of the vaccine three weeks apart — each dose just a third of the amount given to adults. Results from the trial, released in September, showed participating children established a strong antibody response against the virus.
The Moderna vaccine is still undergoing clinical trials for this age group in the United States, but has received authorization for 5- to 11-year-olds in Europe.
“For kids 5 to 11, what the CDC and the FDA had to look at is assuring that we didn’t have further adverse vaccine events associated with administering the vaccines,” said Dr. Mandie Svatek, a pediatric hospitalist at University Health and associate professor at UT Health San Antonio.
Is it safe?
Children in this age group who get vaccinated will be receiving smaller doses; 10 micrograms per shot, compared to the 30 micrograms adults and children over 12 receive.
While children will still need to get two doses, they tend to “have really robust immune systems,” Bowling said. Children will receive the same level of protection as adults despite the smaller doses, he added.
While there have been rare cases of myocarditis and pericarditis in young adults, especially young men, Pfizer has said it did not see any instances of heart inflammation in its trial participants.
Svatek said the cases that have been recorded are lower than the number of individuals that have COVID-associated myocarditis and pericarditis. Because of this, Svatek said she would recommend parents still get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 once the vaccines are approved.
Getting vaccinated means children are protected from major adverse effects of COVID-19, such as long COVID, also called long-haul COVID, where patients experience long-term side effects from the virus, Svatek said. Children will be able to safely get their COVID-19 vaccine while getting their other annual shots, she added.
What are the side effects children may experience?
Researchers and doctors didn’t report any different side effects than what they saw in the older groups, Bowling said.
“Five to 11-year-olds had antibody responses that were very similar to the 16- to 25-year-olds,” Bowling said. “They also said the tolerability from a side effect profile was also similar to that group, and they didn’t see anything outside of the norm.”
Side effects for the vaccine may include pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, or tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea, according to the CDC’s website.
While there have been some cases of myocarditis and pericarditis in young people, it was mostly in young men between the ages of 18 to 22, and none of the individuals died from these incidents.
Should any unexpected side effects occur, parents should report them to their pediatrician immediately, Svatek said.
If children don’t get as sick as adults, why should they get vaccinated?
When COVID-19 first reached the United States, less than 1% of the hospitalized patients were children. But as COVID-19 has mutated over time into different variants, doctors are seeing more children being hospitalized, Svatek said.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 22,000 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and 520 have died, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. As of Oct. 19, there were 11 pediatric COVID-19 patients hospitalized locally, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.
“Since the delta variant came in, I’ve had more children in the hospital and my colleagues have had more children in the hospital than we have seen over the past year and a half with COVID-pneumonia,” Svatek said.
There’s no telling if the virus will continue to mutate into strains that are more dangerous to children, she added. Getting a child inoculated now could prevent them from becoming very sick with COVID-19 in the future, Svatek said.
Where will my child be able to get a COVID-19 vaccination?
Once the FDA and CDC have approved the vaccine for this age group and made their recommendations, Metro Health “will administer the approved vaccine through our distribution sites, the Alamodome, and pop-up clinics,” said Metro Health public information officer Cleo Garcia.
During a briefing last week, Assistant Director of Metro Health Anita Kurian suggested parents speak to their pediatrician following CDC and FDA approval about getting their child vaccinated.
“I will say that vaccinating children, especially in the younger ages, takes a higher level of expertise than vaccinating adults,” Kurian said.
Because the city doesn’t have the same number of nurses and staff who have that level of expertise, the city will be looking to partner with pediatricians, Kurian said.
What about children under age 5?
Pfizer and Moderna’s clinical trials for children under 5 are still ongoing. Results have not been released for this age group yet but could come as early as November, according to U.S. News & World Report.