Washington DC. (CW44 News At 10 | UKTN) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for young children. Vaccine advisers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted unanimously Saturday to support the vaccination of babies and other children from the age of 6 months against Covid-19.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed the plan, clearing the way for the vaccines to be administered as early as next week.
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Parents may be reluctant to get them when they become available, according to an April survey. Only 18% of parents of children under 5 said they would vaccinate their child against Covid-19 as soon as a vaccine became available, according to an April Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor survey.
Nearly 40% of respondents said they would “wait and see” before vaccinating their young children, 11% said they would only receive the vaccine for their children if necessary, and 27% said they would “definitely not” get the Covid-19 vaccination for their child.
Even parents wanting to get vaccinated probably have questions. How confident should they feel about the FDA’s decision? When will vaccines be available for young children and how will families access them? Which vaccine is better, Pfizer or Moderna? If my child has already had Covid-19, does he still need to be vaccinated? And if my child is almost 5 years old, should I wait?
I spoke with Dr. Leana Wen, UKTN medical analyst, emergency physician, and professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. She is also the author of “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health” and a mother of two children under the age of 5.
The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
NC: What do you think of the FDA’s decision?
Dr. Leana Wen: I am delighted and so relieved. It has been a year and a half since adults started receiving the Covid-19 vaccine. There are approximately 17 million children who are not yet eligible for vaccination, and FDA clearance was a major hurdle to clear. Now that the CDC has also recommended both vaccines, I can’t wait to give my young children – ages 2 and almost 5 – the same exceptional protection that my husband and I have.
The FDA and its external advisors followed a rigorous process and conducted independent analyzes of the data submitted by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. They found that three doses of the Pfizer vaccine and two doses of the Moderna vaccine were safe and produced a strong immune response, on par with the antibody response seen in young adults. They also found that both vaccines reduced symptomatic infection in this younger age group.
I am reassured by the careful, careful, and deliberate process this regulatory agency has followed, and when the CDC gives the go-ahead, as I expect, I will be calling my pediatrician to have my two children vaccinated.
UKTN: When do you think vaccines will be available for children under 5, and how should parents and caregivers access them?
Magnifying glass: Pending the CDC’s decision, which came Saturday, states had already been able to order vaccines, meaning some doctors’ offices, community health centers, health departments and pharmacies could have them in stock and ready for distribution. by next week.
The first place I would encourage parents wanting to see is their pediatrician’s office. Parents are used to having children vaccinated there, and the pediatrician will know when and if they plan to give the Covid-19 vaccine. If they don’t plan to transport the vaccine, they might recommend other trusted places in the community.
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You can also contact your local pharmacies, but note that many pharmacies may not be equipped to provide vaccines to young children. Your city or county health department and state health department may also have resources, as may children’s hospitals in your area.
NC: How will parents choose between Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for their children?
Magnifying glass: Both vaccines are safe and both are effective. Both vaccines induce high levels of antibodies, which correlate with protection against severe disease in older age groups. Preliminary results indicate that the three-dose Pfizer vaccine is more effective in preventing symptomatic infection – although these are early studies – and both vaccines induce strong levels of antibodies, which correlate with protection against serious diseases in older age groups.
I think there will be a variety of parental preferences here. Some parents are eager to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible. In this case, the two-dose Moderna vaccine may be preferable, as the second dose is given four weeks after the first, and two weeks later their child will be considered fully vaccinated. If a child starts the series next week, they could be fully vaccinated by mid-August and in time for the next school year.
Some other parents might want their children to have the highest level of protection possible, even if it takes longer. Or, they might feel more reassured by Pfizer because it’s been given to 5-11-year-olds for months. Pfizer’s three-dose vaccine definitely takes longer. The first two doses are given three weeks apart, then the third is given two months after the second. It would therefore take at least until mid-September for a child to be fully vaccinated with Pfizer, even if they receive the first dose next week. The dosage of the Pfizer vaccine is also lower than that of Moderna, which some parents might also prefer, although there does not appear to be a difference in the degree of possible side effects – such as fever, fatigue and irritability – associated with different doses.
Other parents may just want to give their kids everything they have access to first. I think all of these decisions are reasonable, because the CDC recommends both vaccines equally.
UKTN: What about children who have already had Covid-19? Do they still need to be vaccinated?
Magnifying glass: Yes. Vaccination after infection has cleared provides longer lasting and longer lasting protection than cure alone. I hope the CDC will address at its meeting the issue of how long children should wait to get vaccinated after recovering from the coronavirus. The CDC has made it clear that children who have had Covid-19 should still be vaccinated.
NC: Should children soon to be 5 years old wait for the highest dose or get vaccinated now?
Magnifying glass: No, they shouldn’t wait. The CDC is following the advice they previously used for the 5-11 year old group, which is that the 11-year-old — and in this case, the 4-year-old — shouldn’t wait . Start the vaccination process now, then when the child is 5 years old, he can receive the highest dose.
UKTN: What if parents aren’t sure about the vaccine and want to wait and see?
Magnifying glass: I believe all parents want the best for their children. My best advice is to talk to your pediatrician, who you trust with other aspects of your children’s health guidance. Personally, I feel very reassured by the thorough and painstaking process followed by our federal regulatory agencies and look forward to giving my children a safe vaccine that protects them from coronavirus.
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