What to know on children’s COVID jabs
Federal and state officials are preparing to administer COVID-19 vaccines to millions of children should Pfizer’s shots be approved for kids ages 5 to 11.
The White House announced Wednesday that the government has the supplies needed to vaccinate 28 million children — if the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control give the green light. If approved, the vaccines will be delivered at a smaller dose and with smaller needles than what is used for adults and adolescents.
It’ll be a rigorous process before a vaccine is approved for younger children, said Dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist
with OU Health. Currently, only children 12 and older are eligible for the shots.
If it meets the high bar set by those federal agencies, which will review data from Pfizer in making their decision, “everyone should be very comfortable that the risks outweigh the benefits and … we should be open to receiving the vaccination,” Tyungu said.
The FDA is set to meet Tuesday to review a possible authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, and the CDC’s vaccine advisory committee is set to meet in early November.
The Oklahoma Health Department is working with providers across the state to allow pre-ordering of pediatric Pfizer doses, so they can have them available once the shots are approved. The doses would be shipped after approval by the FDA, and then could be administered after approval from the CDC.
About 131,000 pediatric Pfizer doses have been allocated to Oklahoma for the first week of vaccine ordering, said Buffy Heater, assistant deputy commissioner with the Health Department.
“We know that keeping Oklahoma children in the classroom is the best place for students to learn, and once vaccines are approved for the 5-11 age group, we can even more effectively make that happen,” Heater said in a statement.
Vaccinating children is an important part of controlling the spread of CO
VID-19, said Dr. Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID-19 officer.
“If we’re really going to get to immunity for most Oklahomans, it’s an important population that we need to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that there have been multiple outbreaks in schools, and some evidence that kids can spread the virus to adults they live with at home. “It’s just one more step in really getting this pandemic under control.”
Unlike the initial vaccine rollout for adults, where mass-vaccination sites delivered thousands of doses at a time to eligible Oklahomans, vaccines for the
youngest age group are likely to be delivered in smaller settings, mainly at pediatrician’s offices, county health departments, community health centers and through school-based vaccination programs, Bratzler said.
“A lot of parents will rightfully want to talk to their primary care pediatrician or others about the vaccine, and so a lot will get it through their primary pediatrician’s office,” he said.
Currently, only kids ages 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for anyone 12 and older, while the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines are approved for people 18 and older.
So far, adolescents have among the lowest vaccination rates in Oklahoma. Of children ages 12 to 17 in Oklahoma, only about 22% are fully vaccinated, according to the state Health Department’s latest weekly report.
That trend of low vaccination rates may continue with the younger age group, given “quite a hefty load of vaccine hesitancy within our communities,” Tyungu said.
But she urged families with questions to discuss them with their own health care provider, to weigh the risks and benefits of their situation. Though kids don’t often have severe complications from COVID-19, like winding up in the hospital or dying, some have. And even as the delta wave is subsiding, children are still getting sick with the virus, Tyungu said.
She likened COVID-19 to poliomyelitis, which before vaccines would paralyze a small fraction of children who contracted it. Still fewer died of the poliovirus. But during the 1940s, before the vaccine became available, polio outbreaks disabled an average of more than 35,000 people each year, according to the CDC.
“We cannot predict which child gets COVID and then has this horrendous, prolonged hospital stay, or which child gets COVID and dies,” Tyungu said. “And with an airborne virus such as this, if we can have more of our community and population protected, not only does it help our health care system, but it just helps us in general get out of this.”