10/18/21—Since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., debate about their safety has been ongoing. Steadily people are becoming less hesitant, as 188 million are currently vaccinated.1 While COVID vaccines are currently approved for children 12 to 17 years of age, manufacturers are eyeing Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approval for children 5 to 11 years old. This new possibility carries new debates and discussion on their safety in young children.
Hesitations plague parents about COVID-19 vaccines and their kids. According to a survey from Northeastern, Harvard, Northwestern, and Rutgers, reluctance is caused by doubts about whether the vaccine has been tested enough, the probability of long-term effects and the unprecedented speed at which vaccines were developed. It’s important to address these fears with science-backed information. First off, testing for COVID-19 vaccines has been no different than other vaccines in the past. Though the speed may be new, this is due to unprecedented funding and collaboration globally. A study in The Lancet Global estimated the cost of early development and initial clinical safety trials for a typical vaccine to be in the range of $31–$68 million.2 It is already estimated that in 2021, $54 billion will be spent on continued development of COVID-19 vaccines.3 This vast international drive has significantly quickened the creation of safe vaccines.
Another issue is whether the vaccine has been thoroughly tested. These vaccines undergo rigorous testing, again due to unparalleled funding and worldwide alliance, and trials are moving faster. “Just like every vaccine decision we’ve made during this pandemic, our evaluation of data on the use of COVID-19 vaccines in children will not cut any corners,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., acting commissioner of the FDA.4 Pfizer-BioNTech began their clinical trials in March 2021, and submitted for approval for Emergency Use Authorization to the FDA in early October. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Joseph Domachowske, who is supervising the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric trials at SUNY Upstate Medical University. “If we could run clinical trials like this all the time, we would improve public health in an astonishing way.5 “
According to the findings of the Pfizer-BioNTech clinical trials, in participants 5 to 11 years of age, the vaccine was safe, well tolerated and showed robust neutralizing antibody responses.6 Side effects were like those experienced by kids and adults aged 12 and up, including pain, redness, and swelling, along with fever, tiredness, and muscle pain. In some cases, a rash was experienced at the vaccine site. Very rarely a side effect known as myocarditis has been seen in all age groups, a condition where immune response can lead to heart inflammation, chest pain and shortness of breath. However, this side effect is rare, having only been seen in one to five cases per 100,000 vaccinated people.6
There are many considerations as to why you may want to vaccinate your child against COVID-19. One aim of the vaccine is protecting your child from both contracting and spreading COVID-19. Though it has presented milder in children, there are cases of severe infection and even death. With the onslaught of the Delta variant, COVID-19 in children saw a surge. In the second week of August, about 1.4 of every 100,000 children and adolescents were hospitalized for COVID-19, nearly five times the rate in June.7 The ability to prevent your child from spreading or contracting COVID-19 can also help to protect your community from spreading and contracting it, in turn greatly decreasing the possibility of variants emerging.
Vaccination can help protect your child from contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe side effects, but it also can help the U.S. reach herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when a large part of the population becomes immune to a virus, through vaccination or infection, and the virus has nowhere to go.8 For example measles, for which vaccination at a young age is common, with 90% of children in the U.S. receiving a vaccination before their second birthday, according to the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. This level of vaccination has decreased the viral circulation of measles, leading to protection of the general population, as well as those who are not or cannot receive vaccines. Although there is no magic number for reaching COVID-19 herd immunity, with children aged 5 to 11 years making up about 28 million citizens in the U.S.9, their vaccination ability can be a huge factor in reaching the herd immunity goal.
While debate will continue, as the politicizing of vaccines and the concerns of community members roll on, the FDA is currently reviewing the Pfizer-BioNTech clinical trials for vaccination in children. As COVID-19 continues to surge in the U.S., the possible rollout of vaccinations for young kids could lead to more debate, but more importantly possible relief from the spreading of COVID-19. For now, protect your little ones by staying diligent about social distancing, wearing face masks in public, staying home when ill and encouraging frequent hand washing and good hygiene practices.
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Ramjug, P., & Ramjug, P. (2021, August 12). Here’s why parents are hesitant about vaccinating their kids. News @ Northeastern. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://news.northeastern.edu/2021/08/12/heres-why-parents-are-hesitant-about-vaccinating-their-kids/.
1Ritchie, H., Mathieu, E., Rodés-Guirao, L., Appel, C., Giattino, C., Ortiz-Ospina, E., Hasell, J., Macdonald, B., Beltekian, D., & Roser, M. (2020, March 5). Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccinations – statistics and research. Our World in Data. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations?country=OWID_WRL.
2 MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Covid-19 vaccine: How was it developed so fast? Medical News Today. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-did-we-develop-a-covid-19-vaccine-so-quickly#Other-coronaviruses.
3 Person, & Mishra, M. (2021, April 29). World to spend $157 billion on covid-19 vaccines through 2025 -report. Reuters. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/world-spend-157-billion-covid-19-vaccines-through-2025-report-2021-04-29/.
4 Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.). FDA will follow the science on covid-19 vaccines for young children. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-will-follow-science-covid-19-vaccines-young-children.
5 McKeever, A. (2021, August 13). Why kids are still waiting for their covid-19 vaccines. Science. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/why-kids-are-still-waiting-for-their-covid-19-vaccines.
6 Barda, N., Al., E., Author AffiliationsFrom the Clalit Research Institute, Lee, G. M., Others, L. S. and, Others, M. B. and, Others, S. D. A. and, Others, D. M. and, Others, G. W. and, & E. G. Levin and Others. (2021, September 16). Safety of the BNT162B2 mrna COVID-19 vaccine in a nationwide setting: Nejm. New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved October 14, 2021, from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2110475.
7 Jenco, M. (2021, October 14). CDC: Delta variant causing increase in pediatric COVID-19 cases, not severity. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.aappublications.org/news/2021/09/03/covid-delta-variant-children-hospitalizations-090321.
8 Ellis, R. (2021, March 22). Fauci: Child vaccinations needed for herd immunity. WebMD. Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/vaccines/covid-19-vaccine/news/20210322/fauci-says-child-vaccinations-needed-for-herd-immunity.
9 POP1 child population: Number of children (in millions) ages 0–17 in the United States by age, 1950–2020 and projected 2021–2050. ChildStats.gov-Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/tables/pop1.asp.
Rethinking herd immunity and the covid-19 response end game. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2021, from https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2021/what-is-herd-immunity-and-how-can-we-achieve-it-with-covid-19