FDA authorizes vaccine for children aged 5 to 12


Pfizer via AP

This October 2021 photo provided by Pfizer shows boxes of kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. The U.S. moved a step closer to expanding vaccinations for millions more children as a panel of government advisers on Tuesday, Oct. 26, endorsed kid-size doses of Pfizer’s shots for 5- to 11-year-olds. (Pfizer via AP)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in children ages 5 to 11, a development long-awaited by families looking to inoculate elementary school-aged children on Oct. 29.

After a year and a half of Zoom learning, masks and socially distanced lunchrooms, younger children have a chance to be vaccinated.

“My friends and I have been texting excitedly and cheering about the kids being protected whenever we see each other,” said Liz Boltz Ranfeld, associate professor of English at Anderson University.

Ranfeld and her husband, Ben, have an immunocompromised son named Oscar, who will have a chance to finally return to the classroom once vaccinated after months of virtual learning.

“Oscar’s pulmonologist at Riley [Children’s Hospital], who has treated him as a patient since he was 3 or 4, advised against sending him to school until he was vaccinated, because he is at high risk for developing severe complications, including respiratory failure or death, if he contracts Covid,” Ranfeld said.

For months, researchers have been jumping through logistical hoops to assess the safety of Covid-19 vaccines on young children. Per The Wall Street Journal, vaccine researchers said federal health regulators insisted that more children be included in trials than originally planned. Additionally, registering children for trials reportedly takes longer because it requires parental consent, and some participants are too hesitant around needles.

Despite the issues that arose, researchers persevered until they could reliably prove the safety of child Covid-19 vaccination. Per NPR, Pfizer’s shot proved to be over 90 percent effective in kids ages 5 to 11.

“We encourage all parents to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 once vaccines are authorized and recommended for use in this population,” said American Medical Association (AMA) President Gerald E. Harmon.

Alongside support from the big bosses of medicine like the AMA with more support possibly incoming — a Center for Disease Control (CDC) advisory panel meets next week — child vaccinations are receiving support from much of the wider medical community.

“As long as the Covid vaccinations are properly approved for that age group, yes, I believe they should be available for children ages 5-11,” said Joseph Hackworth, a second-year student at Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Child vaccinations are receiving local support, too. Per the Chicago Sun-Times, in a Tuesday press conference, Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady spoke on vaccine availability.

“I want to reassure you, there will be a vaccine available for your child,” Arwady said.

Even with such widespread support, vaccine hesitancy threatens to stall child vaccination rollout just as much as it has stalled adults and teens. According to the Mayo Clinic’s vaccine tracker, as of Friday, only 66.9 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, and a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 34 percent of parents say they will vaccinate their 5-11 year old “right away” once it was authorized.

This battle with vaccine hesitancy is nothing new in the U.S. Despite widespread support from major medical organizations and a constant flow of information on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccination, over 64 million Americans remain unvaccinated.

“Based on vaccine research and statistics, the vaccines are extremely safe to give,” Hackworth said. “There are millions and millions of doses of the vaccines that have been given so far, and adverse effects from them are extremely rare comparatively. There is always the chance, but I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks.”

All that the medical community can do is try to combat hesitancy at its source by providing facts and reassuring those fearful of the vaccine, Hackworth said.

“Whenever the vaccines were first coming out, my mom told me she was hesitant to get the vaccine because her grandma got the flu vaccine and then got the flu,” Hackworth said. “Well, that simply cannot happen, because of how the vaccines are made. I think a lot of the hesitancy comes from misinformation that has been passed down from generation to generation. There is also simply not a lot of public knowledge on vaccines of any kind and how they work.”

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has laid groundwork for children to get vaccinated by establishing four different school-based sites where vaccination appointments can be scheduled, alongside preexisting locations.

CPS also plans to provide as much information as possible to families on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines to encourage further inoculation of all eligible students. Per The Chicago Tribune, only 46.7 percent of children in CPS who are 12 and older have been vaccinated — a number CPS hopes to improve.

“This is something we have to continue to talk about with our families,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said.

Parents hope vaccine rollouts to children represent inching progress towards something resembling pre-pandemic normalcy, particularly in the classroom. As the rollouts begin in earnest, their efficacy will depend on parents’ willingness to inoculate their children — hesitant or not.

“I am so excited that the vaccine will soon be available to my kids,” Ranfeld said. “We will be signing up for appointments immediately.”