Young children finally on deck to get COVID-19 vaccines


NJ Spotlight News

A young participant in Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine trials.


After months of delays, federal officials seem poised to approve COVID-19 vaccinations for a population that has lacked any immunization options to date: children 6 months to 5 years old.

A panel of vaccine experts is scheduled to review data Wednesday on products by Pfizer and Moderna that drugmakers say are safe and lower the risk of infection, hospitalization and death in young children. On Tuesday the group agreed the benefits outweigh the risks of administering the Moderna shots to children ages 6 to 17 years; Pfizer doses were approved last year for children 5 and up.

The Food and Drug Administration must still sign off on the advisory committee’s decisions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will need to designate how these vaccinations are rolled out to the public.

Demand for shots in young children appears limited, however, with fewer than one in five parents determined to get their youngsters immunized quickly, according to national surveys. Just one in three children 5 to 11 years old — the youngest group now eligible for shots — have been vaccinated nationwide, according to federal data.

Even though final signoff is still pending, New Jersey has already ordered more than 51,000 child-sized doses, including 44,700 from Pfizer and 16,400 from Moderna, health officials said. Federal funding to cover the cost of COVID-19 shots for uninsured people of any age expired in April, but the state said immunizations will continue to be available free of charge, even to those without insurance.

State officials said the initial shipments of vaccines for young children will be available at some 190 locations, including public immunization sites — like the mega-sites operating in Burlington and Gloucester counties — pediatricians’ offices, hospitals, local health departments and community clinics. More than 100 pharmacies have also placed orders for doses directly with the federal government and other sites could come online in the future, the state Department of Health said.

“The Department continues to work with community partners and other providers to expand local vaccination sites based on need and provide extended hours and availability to meet the community’s needs,” said Donna Leusner, the DOH communications director.

Inflammatory syndrome

While children have not been hit as hard as older people by COVID-19, pediatricians and other experts insist the virus remains a danger to all ages. More than 8,500 youngsters nationwide — including nearly 200 in New Jersey — have experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, a rare but serious condition triggered by COVID-19 infections; there have been 69 fatalities in the U.S., with one in New Jersey. In addition, an estimated 20% or more of these youngsters could also develop long-COVID, with persisting stomach issues, fatigue, brain fog and more.

Nearly 2.4 million New Jerseyans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March 2020, according to state records, and just 3.4% of them were under age 18. Minors are just 2.3% of the 125,500-plus residents ever hospitalized here and 0.05% of deaths. But for the 16 families who lost children — 11 of them under age 5, many of whom died in last winter’s surge — life will never be the same.

National data also shows that younger children face higher hospitalization and death rates than older kids, something FDA officials said underscored the need for immunizations for this 5-and-under group. “Given the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic and likelihood of continued SARS-CoV-2 transmission during the ensuing months, deployment of the vaccines” among this younger age group will help reduce serious illness and death for young children, officials said.

More than 6.9 million New Jerseyans have now received their primary two-dose vaccine series, roughly eight in 10 residents. But just 3.9 million have had at least one booster shot, according to state officials. That is more than half of those eligible, but it is a far lower uptake than officials would like.

Vaccination rates among children have lagged from the start. While 72% of those between 12 and 17 years old have had at least two shots, just 36% of kids ages 5 through 11 have completed this primary series, state officials said; the rate is 30% for this group nationwide.

The FDA vaccine advisory committee’s discussion is focused on vaccine products for the nearly 18 million American children 6 months to 5 years old. Both are mRNA vaccines designed to trigger an immune response that protects against COVID-19, without using a weakened form of the virus itself. These include:

  • A Pfizer vaccine that is a tenth of the dose provided to adults, administered in three shots — three weeks apart for the first two, followed by a third two months later. While data is limited, the studies show it is 80% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in children ages 6 months through 4 years. Just one out of more than 1,300 test subjects was hospitalized, Pfizer said, and none died. Side effects were largely mild.
  • Formulations of the Moderna vaccine for children, including a dose that is half the adult size for youths ages 6 to 11 years and one quarter for ages six months through 5 years. Kids 12 to 17 years old would receive an adult-sized shot. All ages would need two shots to achieve full protection, with efficacy against infection ranged from 51% for the youngest cohort to 93% among teens and pre-teens, according to FDA documents. Minimal side effects were recorded.
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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-15 02:21:21 -0700