Today marks a milestone in the path toward availability of kids’ COVID vaccines. The FDA’s advisory panel on vaccines, VRBPAC, voted that the benefits outweighed the risks for Pfizer’s new kids-only vaccine for ages 5 to 11.
The vaccine will be a lower dose than the standard version of Pfizer that is available for adults and teens. It’s still a two-dose series, with three weeks between doses.
Soon the FDA should officially authorise the vaccine for kids, and then the ball passes to the CDC, whose advisory panel, ACIP, meets on Nov. 2 and 3 to make recommendations for who should get the vaccine. That means the soonest you can get a shot in your kid’s arm is likely to be shortly after that — so, early November. (We have more information on the process and timeline here.)
Does a vaccine make sense for kids in this age group?
The members of the advisory panel seemed conflicted about whether the vaccine should be authorised for all children or only those at highest risk. In the end, they voted to authorise for everyone, but the CDC could decide to make a narrower recommendation.
The biggest risk they discussed was the possibility of heart conditions like myocarditis and pericarditis, which have occasionally occurred after vaccination in teenage boys and young men. This condition is rare, but serious. Those who are concerned about the risk pointed out that COVID is not usually serious in children, so maybe the benefits only outweigh the risks in higher-risk kids.
On the other hand, myocarditis as a vaccine complication has not yet killed anyone, while 94 children have died of COVID since the pandemic began. We also don’t know if younger children taking the pediatric vaccine dose will have the same risk for myocarditis as older kids who got the standard dose.
When it comes to benefits of the vaccine, one way to look at it is that COVID doesn’t usually hit kids hard. One estimate presented at the advisory panel meeting is that 40% of kids in this age group may already be immune. Of those who were hospitalized with COVID, about two-thirds had a previous health condition, so perhaps there isn’t much to be gained from vaccinating healthy kids.
On the other side of that issue are the 94 deaths. That’s a small number, but it’s a lot more than zero. COVID is currently the eighth leading cause of death in children in this age group. (Deaths in children are, fortunately, rare.) Preventing infections in kids could help to protect more vulnerable family members, and it could also prevent long COVID and enable more kids to get back to in-person school.
Personally, as a parent, the benefits sure seem like they outweigh the risks for my healthy kids. But I’ll be paying close attention to the CDC panel’s discussion next week, and it’s important to know what pediatricians think, too. Stay tuned for more.