Pfizer said on Monday that its two-dose COVID vaccine works for children ages 5 to 11 and that it plans to seek authorization from regulatory agencies as soon as possible.
If the regulatory review goes smoothly, young kids could start rolling up their sleeves relatively soon. What does that mean for parents and children right now? And what, if anything, should they do to prepare? Here’s what you need to know.
Vaccines should be available within a month or two
Again, Pfizer has indicated that it will apply to the Food and Drug Administration to use the vaccine in younger children “with urgency.” But there’s no set timeline for how long that review process will take.
So despite media reports claiming with some certainty that children could be widely immunized by Halloween, experts say it is still not clear when emergency use authorization will come through. And it’s not exactly the same in kids and grownups. The dose of the Pfizer vaccine is 30 micrograms for those 12 and up; the dose for children ages 5 to 11 is much smaller: 10 micrograms.
“Even though there are people saying when it’s going to be available, we just don’t know,” said Dr. Janet Englund, director of the Seattle Children’s Pediatric Infectious Disease Research Group. “It’s the FDA and ACIP [Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices] who decide. Even though things are looking really good, it will be weeks or months.”
The most specific guess Englund would hazard? “I’m convinced we’ll have widespread vaccination for children in 2021,” she said.
The rollout should NOT be as rocky as it was with adults
The initial COVID vaccine rollout in adults in the United States was not particularly well-coordinated, but experts anticipate the process will go much more smoothly when it’s time to immunize younger kids.
For one, there just aren’t as many of them. Kids only make up about 20% of the United States population, and kids age 5 to 11 are an even smaller group.
“I don’t anticipate as big a concern about getting appointments, just because we don’t have as many humans to try and vaccinate at once as we have had previously,” said Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York. “We are better at it and more efficient at it too.”
Like adults and adolescents, children are likely to get vaccinated at pharmacies and community vaccination sites — including schools. The Biden administration has also announced plans to get the vaccine to more primary care physicians, including pediatricians. So it’s possible children will be able to get their shots with their doctor, though that depends on vaccine formulation and storage handling requirements.
“Pediatricians will be ready,” said Dr. Sonja Rasmussen, professor in the departments of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, who mentioned a recent conversation she’d had with a fellow pediatrician who is helping to plan her hospital’s rollout. “They’re already thinking about whether they can have drive-through clinics, how they can increase appointments, how they can have availability for kids to get vaccinated.”
But some experts are slightly less optimistic.
“Pediatric offices around the country are already overwhelmed by patients who need COVID tests, catch-up vaccinations, and routine well or sick visits. It may be challenging for them to add the demands of vaccinating so many children quickly,” said pediatrician Dr. Krupa Playforth. “My hope is that health departments will set up facilities and methods to streamline the process so that we can get as many children vaccinated as possible. It would be great to have more of a ‘normal’ holiday season this year!”
Get your child a flu shot now
It’s absolutely safe for those 12 and up to get a flu shot and a COVID shot (whether an initial dose or booster) at the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Because federal regulators haven’t yet reviewed the data and made any recommendations, it’s too soon to say whether the same will be true for younger kids, though experts are hopeful it will be. Still, that’s just one more reason to get your child a flu shot now. Every year, the CDC urges everyone to get their flu shot by end of October at the latest, if possible.
“Get a flu shot now. We really are concerned about flu this year,” said Englund. Flu rates last year were unusually low, likely due to COVID-related preventive measures, and rates this year are expected to be higher.
“Getting the flu shot and doing what you can to stay healthy and out of healthcare facilities is key while we wait for FDA approval,” echoed Playforth.
Also, make sure that your child is up to date with other immunizations, like MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), she urged. Kids typically get a second dose sometime between the ages of 4 and 6. So you could have, say, a 6-year-old who is due for that second MMR dose, who needs their annual flu shot, and is eligible for a COVID vaccine soon.
“Now is the time to be checking about these other vaccines,” Englund said.
Ask your pediatrician any questions you have sooner rather than later
If you have questions about the vaccine trial, what the vaccination process will be like, or specific concerns related to your child’s health, now is a good time to reach out to your child’s pediatrician or health care provider and start a conversation.
“I know many parents have questions, so I encourage them to ask their questions now, because once it’s approved, you don’t want to have to delay. We’ve been waiting long enough,” said Kainth. Though it’s certainly not as detailed as a published study would be, she also urged parents to look at the press release from Pfizer to read more about the trial’s scope and findings.
“If you have any concerns, or hesitancy, or just plain old ‘I want to understand more’ type of questions, this would be the time to reach out,” Kainth said.
Results could be available for children under 5 later this year
Pfizer announced other two age cohorts from the trial ― children 2-5 years of age and children 6 months to 2 years of age ― are expected as soon as the fourth quarter of this year. Researchers are testing a lower dose of the two shots than 5- to 11-year-olds received.
Talk to your kids about what’s happening — and continue masking up
Throughout the pandemic, experts have emphasized how important it is to talk to children (in a developmentally appropriate way) about what is happening, and this moment is no different. Ask them what they think they know about the COVID vaccine, and be open to any questions they have. Also, be positive about this development, Englund urged.
“We, the adults, should be positive for our children, and let them know: This is a good thing,” she said.
At the same time, with the delta variant circulating and cases in children reaching new highs, it is important to continue wearing masks, avoid crowded indoor settings when possible, and wash hands. Also, make sure that anyone in your household who is eligible has been vaccinated, which can help “cocoon” unvaccinated kids as they wait for their turn. COVID cases among children have increased by about 240% since July.
“Right now is a time to double down on all those other protective measures,” Rasmussen said. “Anything you can do right now, because we’re so close to that chance to be protected by a vaccine.”
This article has been updated with quotes from Dr. Playforth.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.