Is the Pfizer BioNTech Vaccine Safe for Children Aged 5 to 11? Does it work? Does every child need it?
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the vaccine for emergency use in these age groups following an almost unanimous recommendation from its advisers last week. On Tuesday, a similar committee advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will give its opinion.
If the advisers, as expected, recommend the vaccine, and the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, acknowledges, the decision will most likely ease the concerns of millions of parents and strengthen U.S. defense against the virus before winter comes.
Inoculations for children ages 5 to 11 can then begin this week. To anticipate the agency’s decision, the Biden administration has hired more than 20,000 pediatricians, GPs and pharmacies to administer the vaccines.
About 15 million doses are already being packed with dry ice, loaded into small specialized containers and shipped via planes and trucks to vaccination sites across the country, federal officials said Monday.
Younger children will receive one-third of the permitted dose for those 12 years of age and older, supplied with smaller needles and stored in smaller vials to avoid confusion with adult doses.
The CDC’s guidelines for the use of the vaccine are not legally binding, but have a major impact on the practice of the medical community. An approval would be timely as Americans begin planning their winter vacation.
Although cases in the U.S. have been falling steadily for several weeks, experts warn that indoor family gatherings during Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays could cause rates to rise again, even if it is not to the awful heights of last year. Airlines are preparing for what could be the busiest travel season since the start of the pandemic.
Vaccinations would ease the minds of many parents who are eager to protect their young children and frustrated by frequent school closures and quarantines. Coronavirus outbreaks forced 2,000 schools to close between early August and October.
Yet many parents are reluctant to immunize their children, citing concerns about the long-term safety of the vaccine, or because they fear the vaccine is more harmful than Covid-19.
About three in 10 parents say they will definitely not get the vaccine for their 5- to 11-year-olds, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A similar percentage of parents said they would immunize their children “immediately,” a figure that has barely shaken since similar polls in July and September.
Before FDA advisers met last week, they were bombarded by thousands of emails spraying misinformation about the vaccine and asking experts to vote against it. A common objection to the vaccine is that children rarely get sick from the virus, and the potential harm of the vaccine may outweigh its benefits.
However, although children are much less likely than adults to become seriously ill from the virus, their risk is not zero. Many children were infected with coronavirus in the recent rise, and children ages 5 to 11 accounted for nearly 11 percent of all cases in the week of October 10, according to data collected by the CDC
Since the onset of the pandemic, more than 8,300 children ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with Covid, and at least 94 have died. About one-third of the hospitalized children were sick enough to be admitted to intensive care units.