ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC/WUTR) — As the FDA approves the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children ages 12 to 15, parents are faced with a new question — should they allow their children to get the shot? Two doctors from New York can help answer those questions.
Dr. Kent Hall—the Chief Physician Executive at Mohawk Valley Health System—says getting this new group of individuals vaccinated is a positive step forward. And Dr. Jeff Harp from Highland Family Medicine says approving that age group to be vaccinated could mean a lot for herd immunity.
“Currently 44% of Americans have received at least one dose of vaccine,” Harp says. “We will start seeing significant slowing at 50to 60%. Experts currently estimate that for true herd immunity 70 to 85% of the population must be immune through full vaccination or having the illness.”
“Now we’re finding that when people are coming into the hospital when they’re getting sick and coming into the hospital, it is really a younger age,” Dr. Hall says. “It is really predominantly between the ages of 20 and 40 but it does include kids under the age of 20.”
Dr. Hall says vaccination efforts are needed for this population. But what are the companies doing to make sure the vaccine is safe and effective for kids 12 & up?
“Pfizer’s just a little bit ahead of Moderna in terms of the studies,” Hall says. “It doesn’t have anything to do with Pfizer being different in terms of the vaccine itself. It is really much more about the timing of it. So Moderna will be coming out as well. Understand that Pfizer was already available to people age 16 and older whereas Moderna was only available to those 18 and older.”
Pfizer is looking at the safety profile and the effectiveness of the vaccine. Based on preliminary data it is about 98-99% effective on ages 12 to 16. Moderna announced last Thursday that the initial analysis of a study in patients age 12 to 17 showed a 96% efficacy rate. Moderna said the vaccine was also “generally well tolerated” and that no serious safety concerns have been identified so far.
Similarly, in a study published in late March, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated 100% efficacy in adolescents. The administration was well tolerated, with side effects generally consistent with those observed in participants 16 to 25 years of age.
“What everybody would like to have, assuming that they’re safe, is to have as many kids as possible vaccinated before school,” Hall said.
Should parents be hesitant to allow their children to be vaccinated? Dr. Harp says no, because COVID is becoming more of a pediatric disease. Last Monday, the AAP reported that children represented 22.4% of new cases reported in the previous week. Experts link the trend to several factors—particularly fewer infections in older Americans due to high vaccination. Other possible factors include new COVID-19 variants and the loosening of restrictions on school activities. The RNA virus vaccines are safe and effective for children. He says to allow your children to be immunized.
What about variants? Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are showing efficacy against most if not all variants, Harp says. In a study published last week, people in Qatar who received two doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine were 75% less likely to develop a case of COVID-19 caused by B.1.351 (the most worrisome variant thus far) than were unvaccinated people and had near-total protection from severe disease caused by that strain.
What about younger children? Harp says Pfizer is conducting pediatric studies to determine the safety and benefits of administering its vaccine to young children. The company plans to submit two new emergency use authorization requests in September, with one request covering children from two to five years old and a second applying to ages 5 to 11. A separate batch of results and a possible request for children who are ages six months to two years old are expected later in 2021.
As we go further along, Dr. Hall says more questions will be asked than answers given. “The disease has been around for a year and six months,” he says. “The vaccines have been around for 10 months, 11 months, something like that. There is just information that comes out over time and we’re just waiting for that. We are being extremely vigilant in terms of watching that to make sure that everything is being done is truly being done in the safest most effective way possible.”