Last week, we learned that after months of clinical trials, Pfizer determined that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children between the ages of 5 and 11.
Notwithstanding that welcome news, the child version of the vaccine will not be available immediately. Pfizer must first submit a formal application to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization, after which the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will analyze the data. If all goes well, approval of the vaccine for the 5-11 age group will follow.
Hiccups in the approval process are always possible — and government health agencies will be extra careful in determining whether the vaccine is safe for young children. But by some estimates, the 5-11 age group could get their first vaccines by the end of October, a 10-microgram dose of vaccine, compared with the 30-microgram dose given to adults.
The expansion of vaccines for kids is a big deal. There are 28 million children in the 5-11 age group. It is a significant segment of our population that is difficult for parents to police and which is highly unlikely to police itself. Considering the ultra-contagious delta variant that is currently overwhelming our health care system, we need to view every unvaccinated child as a potential virus spreader who could threaten our schools with infections and closures, potentially infect family members and friends, and further extend the threat and impact of the pandemic. It is for these reasons that the plan to make vaccines available to this young age cohort is so important.
There is also a possible highly beneficial ripple effect that could flow from the provision of vaccines to younger children: Schools could soon require children to be vaccinated, as many have required of teachers and staff. Once otherwise reluctant parents see the benefits of child vaccination, perhaps they, too, will agree to be vaccinated — thereby helping to bring us closer to the goal of herd immunity.
The question, of course, is whether parents will be willing to allow their children to be vaccinated. And, on that issue, there is reason for concern. Two recent national surveys indicate that 51% of parents of kids between 3 and 11 are unlikely to have their children vaccinated when it is approved, and only 26% of parents of children between 5 and 11 would be willing to have them vaccinated right away. We need to find a way to address these parental concerns.
Over the past 18 months we have seen remarkable strides in the development and implementation of a safe and comprehensive vaccine program for adults under the supervision of the FDA and implementation guidance from CDC. Most of us have come to trust those authorities and to rely upon their guidance. We hope that similar trust will be accorded those agencies when they provide guidance regarding child vaccines. Our communal health depends on it.