Photo Credit: Rady Children’s Hospital–San Diego
On September 20, 2021, Pfizer and BioNTech made a major announcement on the next round of COVID-19 vaccines. The companies said their studies show the vaccine is safe in children as young as 5 years old.
Pfizer reports “a favorable safety profile and robust neutralizing antibody responses” in the drug trial’s participants, which included more than 2,200 children ages 5 to 11. Two 10 microgram (μg) doses of the vaccine were given 21 days apart. That’s about one-third of the amount given to people 12 years and older.
AHA member hospitals and health systems across the country are touting the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for newly eligible children based on the trial outcomes; many are calling it an important step toward ending the pandemic.
Jennifer Nayak, M.D., pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, helped lead the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine trials for Pfizer. In a Rochester WROC-TV interview, she explained that during the vaccine trials, parents monitored their child for symptoms that could be related to the vaccine. She said, “There’s no evidence in any of studies for adults, teens and or younger kids of long-lasting negative effects from this vaccination.”
Stephen Spector, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and member of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Rady Children’s Health Network, heralded the benefits of vaccinating children in a recent interview with San Diego’s KPBS.
Spector emphasized the critical timing of the vaccine’s use among more children as they go back to school. He said, “There's been an increase in the number of children who are becoming infected because they're going back to school and have not been immunized. So this is very exciting. We've been looking forward to a vaccine for younger children. And I think my colleagues will strongly recommend it to parents with eligible children.”
Rady Children's Health Network is partnering with the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute and the Mother-Child-Adolescent Program at UC San Diego to study the safety and effectiveness of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine for children. The study involves kids between 6 months and 12 years of age. Moderna said the study will be broken up into two parts: One phase is an open-label, dose-escalation, age de-escalation. The other is a randomized, placebo-controlled expansion study. Both phases of the study will "evaluate the safety, tolerability, reactogenicity and effectiveness of two doses of mRNA-1273 given 28 days apart" in about 6,750 child participants from the U.S. and Canada.
Frank Esper, M.D., pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, stresses the benefits of vaccinating children and reassures parents that it’s safe and effective for them even at the lower dose. “Despite the smaller dose, in the smaller children, the antibody response is as vigorous as what we find in older age groups,” he explained. “So, we’re seeing a robust antibody response meeting that protective threshold.”
Esper argues that the delta variant “has changed the game for kids and COVID-19” as infection rates and hospitalizations continue to rise among the age group. He explains that children are being admitted to hospital intensive care units with severe conditions and urges parents to protect their families with the vaccines.
“The virus has changed and is now able to overcome the early resilience children had before. Children are at risk, and we are seeing more children admitted to the hospital for COVID than ever before,” said Esper. “We are seeing children with severe disease. They are getting into the intensive care unit in the most severe circumstances. That is something that [we] can protect our children against with use of the vaccine.” As reported on September 20, 2021, eight children over the age of 12 are being treated for COVID-19 at Cleveland Clinic; all of them are unvaccinated.
In Illinois, the daily average number of children age 17 and younger being infected with COVID-19 was nearly 100 during the first week of September, with a single hospitalization. Not bad compared to other states.
Some Chicago physicians attribute the low rate to what they call a “cocoon of vaccinated people" effect. That’s when a child is surrounded by family and friends who are vaccinated, offering a layer of protection.
Still, the risks for kids getting COVID-19 are unacceptably high. WLS-TV in Chicago talked with doctors from the city’s top-ranked children’s hospitals about the growing threat of pediatric COVID-19 cases. Larry Kociolek, M.D., Lurie Children’s Hospital said, "Children represent 25% of the total population in the U.S. and now children are accounting for 25% of infections."