The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisors voted unanimously to approve the use of Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines for children aged six months to five years old.
Dr. Rob McGregor, chief medical officer at Akron Children’s helps answer questions parents may have about the vaccine for this age group.
What should parents know about the COVID-19 vaccine for younger kids?
The vaccine is very similar to the vaccine rolled out in other age groups, but the dose is smaller. Moderna and Pfizer, there are no head-to-head studies so I can’t comment on to which one is preferable. I know the Pfizer is a three dose regimen, which probably makes some parents say, “Whoa, I don’t really want three if I can get away with two.” However, the dose is much, much smaller in the Pfizer and the efficacy with a third dose looks to provide about 80% protection and the side effects seem to be less. And again, the side effects even for the Moderna vaccine are really what many of us felt with aches and fever and just not feeling good for a day or two. But with the lower dose with Pfizer, it seems that that’s really minimal.
The kids are the last group to at least get an opportunity to be vaccinated. We have seen that vaccinated folks who get an infection, generally speaking and unless they have underlying serious health conditions, do pretty well. Those who have multiple infections reflects the different strains of the COVID virus that has been going through the country. And some of them have varying immunization effects of the sickness itself, so with some of these newer strains really, you get it, you get over it and you really don’t have much of a neutralizing antibody response. In other words, you’re not saying, “Well, I got it for this season, I’ll be good until next year.” We’re just not seeing that because it’s not the same virus strain every time you get exposed.
What can you tell parents who may be nervous about their child receiving the vaccine?
We have two factors here. One, we have the fact that the vaccine has been given to older adults and children above the age of five. So while the uptake has only been about 30 percent in Ohio for school age kids, it’s still a fair number of kids who we would expect to see side effects. Ideally, whenever we’re talking about a new medication or a new vaccine for infants, we’d like to see what would happen in the older kids first.
We’ve seen some exceptions with this vaccine. Some pre-adolescent and early adolescent boys, and some of the cardiac inflammation that’s been related to it – we’ve really not seen ill effects of the vaccine in that situation. When the companies came forward and wanted to do the vaccine for smaller kids, the pushback really was, let’s just get some more people in your trials. They really have had more kids between six months and five years of age enrolled in the trials and have seen none of the cardiac side effects that we saw in some of the early trials with the teenage boys.
Again, the numbers are still nice numbers, but they’re not so big that you’d say absolutely zero risk. And in fact, the committee yesterday voted 21 to zero in favor that the risk benefit analysis really favors moving forward with the vaccine.
Why is it important for the youngest kids to get the vaccine and why should they to get started with this dosing series now?
Even though the numbers in Summit County and some of our surrounding areas have improved over the last several weeks, we did have a little flare up in the last three weeks. And while the numbers are down, our hospitalization increased for kids in the last week that we’ve been doing surveillance. It’s not as dramatic as when we were in the Omicron spike, but it still does affect these youngest infants and children. And MISC, the anti-inflammatory syndrome of childhood, was pretty prevalent during the Omicron outbreak.
We’ve not seen that now with these newer variants but it’s a real entity. And if we can minimize that risk, I think it is worth moving forward with that. Now the timing, it’s going to take a little while if you’re getting a three dose regimen. It’s three weeks before dose one and dose two, and then I believe it’s eight weeks for the third dose. This isn’t a booster, this is just the primary dosing series. So if you’re thinking, “Well, maybe now it’s not so bad,” but for school you want to be protected, you may want to think about starting early, so that you back off the timeline by two months to get started.
Vaccines in general have really been remarkably important for keeping our children well. And during the pandemic, whether it’s because checkups weren’t as easy to get or what, but in general vaccine rates for all childhood vaccines has decreased. And I really want to stress to parents to think about that.
For example, the meningitis vaccines are very effective. When I trained, I would see someone every week or two in a week with bacterial meningitis – really very sick. And now it’s really rare for the residents in training to see someone with meningitis. And that stands. The only thing that’s changed is the vaccine. So please take a look at your child’s vaccine status and if you are falling behind, get them in. Now that you’ve got a little breathing room maybe in the summer, if the kids aren’t juggling school and everything else, please get all vaccines up to date.
For questions about the COVID-19 vaccine or any of your child’s vaccinations, speak with your pediatrician.
Learn more about Akron Children’s COVID-19 vaccine appointments.