The last age group still unprotected from COVID-19 is finally eligible to get vaccinated against the virus.

Parents in San Antonio may be able to get their children ages 6 months to five years vaccinated as soon as Tuesday, pending a signoff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the vaccine for children under 5 years of age on Friday, two days after its outside advisors offered their unanimous support.

“I have been watching the news constantly,” said Grace Marengo Sanchez, mother of a 3-year-old and 1-year-old. “Almost every week I would Google ‘under 5 vaccine’ and just see what the headlines were.”

Marengo Sanchez said she and her husband, Thomas Davis, have felt frustrated to see mandates lifted and the country moving on while the youngest members of society are left unprotected.

“Like our demographic has almost been forgotten about,” she said. 

In the meantime, Davis said to protect their girls, they have been taking extra precautions, such as keeping them out of daycare, keeping playdates small and outdoors and masking up when needed. 

Regimens for the youngest children will be different from each vaccine maker. For the Pfizer vaccine, children up to 5 years old will receive three shots of three micrograms each. For the Moderna vaccine, younger children will receive two doses of 25 micrograms each.

Pfizer said three doses were 80% effective in preventing disease, according to the New York Times, while Moderna’s vaccine was about 51% effective in children 6 months to 2 years old and 37% effective in children 2 through 5. The FDA’s commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf, said in a statement that the vaccine will provide protection from “the most severe outcomes” of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.

Dr. Mandie Tibball Svatek, pediatric hospitalist at University Health and associate professor at UT Health San Antonio, said a vaccine for babies, toddlers and preschoolers was delayed as dosage and efficacy were examined, and trial results have proven the vaccine is safe, with minimal side effects. 

“Fever, I think, was the main side effect and then the usual arm pain and some fatigue, but fever seemed to be the most [common] response post-vaccine,” she said. 

A silent surge

In Bexar County, only 25% of currently eligible children are vaccinated, said Anita Kurian, assistant director of the Metropolitan Health District.

Vaccination rates for children under 5 may end up being even lower than that. In a recent nationwide survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 18% of parents of children under 5 years of age said they would vaccinate their children against COVID-19. 

“That is because many of us have already put this pandemic in the rearview mirror,” said Kurian.

Because of that, she said, some parents may be less compelled to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19. She warned against that complacency, noting that in Bexar County, cases are slowly rising again.

In fact, the FDA’s approval of vaccines for children under 5 comes at a time when Bexar County is experiencing what public health officials are calling a “silent surge.”

On average, Metro Health is seeing 533 new cases every day, Kurian said, and last week, the county moved from low to medium risk, with case counts trending in the “worsening” direction.

Kurian said vaccinating the youngest population is especially important because they are often in congregate settings, such as daycare centers, where they can catch the virus and spread it to more vulnerable family members. Getting children vaccinated closes off those avenues of transmission, which can help reduce the virus from circulating in a community.  

As home tests have become widely available and community test sites have closed, many people are now testing at home, causing some cases to go unreported, said Dr. Jason Bowling, infectious disease specialist at University Health. Others, he said, have minimal symptoms and simply aren’t testing. 

“Our test positivity data is not nearly as robust as it was before. We don’t have hospitalizations,” said Bowling. “That can throw people off into being misled into thinking that we’re not having a lot of COVID, but we are having a tremendous amount of COVID.”

Both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines will be available through pharmacies and pediatricians, said Bowling. He said he expects to say fewer large vaccine drives and that more parents will most likely seek the vaccine through their primary care provider. 

He said he hopes parents will take advantage of them.

“Ultimately, I think it’s important that once you get your questions answered that kids get the vaccine so they have the same protection that the adults in the community do.”

Marengo Sanchez and Davis said they look forward to vaccinating their children so they can have fun together at places they have been staying away from for the past two and a half years, including museums, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and the Majestic Theatre.

Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.