AUSTIN, Texas — The White House is preparing the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for children age 5 to 11 as it awaits approval of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses spaced three weeks apart and a two-week wait for full protection to kick in, meaning kids who get their first shot of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine within a couple weeks of the expected approval in early November will be fully vaccinated by Christmas.
KVUE's Molly Oak spoke with Dr. Bradley Berg, the section chief of pediatrics for Baylor Scott & White for Greater Austin-Round Rock region.
What do parents need to know? What should they expect?
"What we do know right now is that the Pfizer vaccine, which is the one that's at the frontline and would most likely be approved first, will be a half dose. So it will still be a two-dose series like the adult doses, but it will be half the doses that the teenagers and the adults get. They're also administering it with slightly smaller needles. So that, again, is about the children being smaller. The side effect profile is supposed to be very similar to the adult vaccine, so maybe a little sore arm, fever, not feeling too good for a day or so, but nothing out of the ordinary as expected."
Should parents expect their kids to feel sick the day after the first and/or second shot?
"I wouldn't say, necessarily, 'expect' because most of the adults don't get that either. Most kids do really well with vaccines. So we don't see a lot of side effects with vaccines in general with children. But if they do get side effects, which is usually for the regular childhood vaccines, it might be ten or 15% of the children. It's usually low acuity, such as a low little fever or not feeling so good for a day."
Pending FDA approval, could we see kids fully vaccinated before Christmas?
"We do anticipate that children will be able to get the vaccines before the holiday season. What we do know is that the FDA has to approve the vaccine first and then the CDC has to approve it. By all indications, that is supposed to be in the next couple of weeks, and we'll know more by the beginning of November. Once that's approved, it should roll out pretty fast. The United States has already bought 28,000,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine in anticipation of this being approved so that they can ship it out to clinics very rapidly. Pediatricians and hospital systems are already being told to preorder it so that they can get their dose right away. That said, children still have to come in to get the vaccine, and then it is a two dose vaccine, three weeks apart. Then children won't be considered fully immune for two weeks after that. So the entire period would be a five week period before a child would actually be considered fully vaccinated. But if somebody came in at the first couple of weeks of November, ideally they would be fully immunized by Christmas."
How are kids currently fairing with COVID, given the delta variant's transmissibility?
"The delta variant really took off in August, September. We saw a large number in children. We saw a lot more children with delta variant than we did with the original Alpha variant, mostly because it was a lot more contagious. That has decreased significantly over the last few weeks, and so COVID across the board has gotten lower and that applies to children, as well. But the biggest thing that we're trying to prevent is more mutations like delta variant. So we don't want the coronavirus to continue to mutate. And, right now, the way to do that is to have most of the population immunized with the children being unimmunized. They're the primary group of people where those mutations are going to occur. So the faster we can get the pediatric group immunized, the faster we can kind of prevent that spread of variants within the COVID sector."
Anything else you think parents need to know ahead of the pending approval for Pfizer?
"I think one of the big things that parents are concerned about is just how safe is this vaccine in the pediatric population? And what we do know is in the adult population and the adolescent population, it is incredibly safe. We've seen very minimal side effects. The side effects that are reported in the news are still very, very rare. And so all the indications are that this is a very, very safe vaccine. The children overall have had much better luck with COVID than the adults have. So the expectation would be that they would have even a better response to the vaccine and less side effects than the adults do, as well. So I don't think that there should be a lot of concern regarding the safety of this vaccine when it's rolled out to the pediatric population. The studies that Pfizer and Moderna are doing cover a couple hundred thousand children, as well. So it's got a lot of numbers behind it."
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