Approval by Halloween to vaccinate kids could offer a truly thankful Thanksgiving season
Parents and pediatricians, worried for the health of children due to the COVID-19 Delta variant and the return to school this fall, finally have reason for hope and reassurance on the horizon. It has been reported that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine could be available to children ages 5 to 11 years as soon as the end of October. This would be an especially sweet treat just in time for Halloween for this vulnerable population.
Bolstered by recent data that the vaccine given to children at one-third of the adult dosage was safe and effective, Pfizer is expected to seek authorization in the coming weeks and pediatricians are hoping for a fast response and quick approval from the FDA.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has been pressing for weeks now on a swift process to evaluate this data and formally approve the vaccine in this age group. As the pandemic continues, the emergence of the Delta variant and the return to the classroom have combined to produce dire results for children.
Recent weeks have seen cases rising exponentially after a dramatic decline earlier in the summer. It is a stark reminder that when we talk about the current wave of the pandemic being one of the unvaccinated, that this includes all children under 12 years of age who have not yet been eligible for vaccination. The last four weeks have seen nearly 1 million children diagnosed with COVID-19, accounting for more than one-quarter of cases, which has also led to higher rates of pediatric hospitalizations in Tennessee and many other states than seen at any other time throughout the pandemic. Numerous children have died as a result of the recent wave, again highlighting the need and urgency for vaccine approval in this age.
Parents and pediatricians can be reassured on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in this age group as well. First, an estimated 183 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated. It has become a cliché at this point in the pandemic to point out that our hospitals are full of unvaccinated patients with COVID-19, not those suffering from COVID-19 vaccine side effects. In fact, the data showed few and mild side effects in children when given at a lower dosage than adults, but none were severe with no cases of myocarditis identified. Second, the data in children shows that they produce a strong immune response, similar to adults despite receiving a lower dose. Children will receive two doses, at least 21 days apart, similar to adults. Pfizer is expected to have enough data to submit for approval later this month, with hopes that the FDA could then provide approval within the following three to four weeks. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Biden, has recently stated that he expects the process to take place between now and Halloween.
As a parent of a fully vaccinated 14-year-old and an as of now “too young to be vaccinated” 10-year-old, my home sometimes feel like a house divided. The unvaccinated fifth grader goes to elementary school every day while her parents hope each day that she doesn’t acquire COVID-19 from classmates. While she is picking out a Halloween costume online, we hope for a more normal return to school and extracurricular activities this fall. We are not alone in this scenario, as millions of parents share similar stories of sending their child to school, hoping for the best while awaiting the hope of the option for vaccination for their younger children.
The plans for vaccinating these populations in their medical home must begin now. Pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics have strongly supported vaccination of 12 to 18-year-olds and will continue to do so in younger ages as well as the data supports it.
This unexpected Halloween treat will hopefully prevent the rest of this fall from being so spooky and allow for a truly thankful Thanksgiving season, as children receive their second vaccine and achieve the status of being fully vaccinated about two weeks later. That may allow for a true holiday reunion for many children, families, grandparents and more. We look forward to a day coming soon when the unvaccinated no longer has to universally include all 5 to 11-year-old children.
Jason Yaun, MD, FAAP, is vice president of the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Follow him on Twitter: @JasonYaunMD
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