What an expert wants parents to know about COVID vaccine for younger kids

September 24, 2021
Nurse Karen Hawkins prepares the Moderna vaccine in a clinical trial for kids.
Nurse Karen Hawkins prepares a shot in a clinical trial testing the Moderna vaccine in children. Moderna has not been cleared for anyone under 18 yet. Photo by Sarah Pack

Some quarantine-weary parents can’t wait for the day when children 11 and younger become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Could that happen as soon as Halloween for kids age 5 to 11, as some reports have suggested? 

"Hopefully," said Elizabeth Mack, M.D. She’s a pediatric critical care doctor at MUSC Children’s Health and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “But this is the end of September, and there are a lot of steps to come.”

Earlier this week, Pfizer and BioNTech, which worked together to develop what’s known as the Pfizer vaccine, announced the vaccine showed “a favorable safety profile and robust neutralizing antibody responses” in 5- to 11-year-olds.

“These trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking authorization of our vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and we plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Dr. Elizabeth Mack 
Dr. Elizabeth Mack

But Mack said that doesn’t mean authorization is a done deal. “That was a press release from Pfizer. There has been no Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization or a review of the data — we haven't seen the data. So, it is really exciting, but it was a very preliminary step. It was not an approval. It was not an EUA. It was not a sharing of the data.”

The press release stated that the research involved 2,268 children from 5 to 11 years old. They got 1/3 of the dose you’d find in the adult vaccine and got two shots, 21 days apart. The release said the children’s antibody responses were similar to those in an earlier study of 16- to 25-year-olds who got adult doses.

The news comes as the number of COVID cases in children rose to more than a quarter of all cases for the most recent week tracked by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The South Carolina Children’s Hospital Collaborative reported on Sept. 22 that there were 34 kids hospitalized with COVID-19 statewide. All were unvaccinated.

But just because someone is eligible to get vaccinated doesn’t mean they will. “We are still sitting at 25% fully vaccinated of our 12- to 19-year-olds in South Carolina. So even the older kids have been a challenge,” Mack said.

Right now, Pfizer is the only vaccine available to kids 12 and up, but Moderna has been testing its vaccine in children as well. The MUSC Children’s Health R. Keith Summey Medical Pavilion in North Charleston is one of the sites involved in the Moderna trial.

Mack said it all adds up. “Vaccination in large numbers is our strategy for our exit from the pandemic."

She hopes younger kids can get vaccinated soon. “Many parents are more than ready, assuming the data look good.”

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