Access to the younger population: A potential COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 to 11 will soon expand the age range for vaccination

Cody+Elementary+school+nurse+Rachael+Mann+and+many+other+school+nurses+will+be+able+to+ease+their+concerns+knowing+their+younger+students+will+have+the+opportunity+to+get+vaccinated.

Rachel Mann

Cody Elementary school nurse Rachael Mann and many other school nurses will be able to ease their concerns knowing their younger students will have the opportunity to get vaccinated.

Mukul Kulkarni, Copy Editor

Pfizer and BioNTech recently submitted their data for 5 to 11-year-olds to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Sept. 28, 2021. Although Pfizer and BioTech have not requested for emergency-use authorization yet, the FDA could authorize this vaccine for younger children in a matter of weeks.

The Pfizer and BioNtech vaccine, already available to the widest age range, will be the first vaccine to become more accessible to a larger population after it is FDA approved. Moderna submitted their data for younger teens back in June but has yet to receive the authorization. Johnson & Johnson is still in the process of conducting clinical trials in younger recipients. 

The Pfizer vaccine for children is not the exact same as the vaccine currently available for adults. Due to a different immune response in children, the dosage has to be modified so it is appropriate for the developing immune systems of children. Weight, age and how the vaccine moves throughout the body are all factors that contribute to determining the dosage. 

Too much dosage could lead to severe short-term side effects—such as fevers and headaches—while low dosage could lead to an ineffective vaccine.

In the clinical trials Pfizer conducted, 2,268 5 to 11-year-olds were included. A two-dose modified vaccine was distributed to the kids 21 days apart. As previously mentioned, the dosage for younger kids is reduced deliberately to accommodate  their developing immune systems, so a 10-microgram dose was administered instead of the 30-microgram dose used in the vaccine for those 12 and older. 

Sixteen- to 25-year-olds were used as the control group to compare neutralizing antibody levels in the clinical trials. The levels showed promising results as they compared well with older individuals that received larger doses. The trials showed that the vaccine was safe and effective at producing strong antibody responses in children.   

Superintendent Brian Strusz is one of many who are optimistic about the new vaccine. He is confident the vaccine for younger kids will be as effective as the vaccine for ages 12 and up. “Right now we’re seeing most of the positive cases in the younger ages compared to the older ages because vaccines have only been available to the older students,” Strusz explained. “Hopefully we would see the same decrease in positive cases amongst the older students in the younger students as well [with this new vaccine]”.

Strusz is also anticipating a reduction in absences due to COVID-19 in younger students with the help of this vaccine. “If the number of positive cases start to drop, then we’re having a more positive impact in the classroom because kids are there everyday, we’re not spreading amongst each other and we’re not having cluster outbreaks or things of that nature,” Strusz said.

Local Pediatrician Sachin Nunnewar is also eager to see the vaccination roll out for younger kids. He is confident this new vaccine will help immensely with controlling the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. The Delta variant has caused more large-scale outbreaks amongst kids since its seeking out those who are unvaccinated. Nunnewar is sure that with this new vaccine in place, it will significantly reduce the variant’s toll on kids.

“Even if the [younger kids] get exposed to COVID, [the side effects] will be a milder infection, like a common cold, and prevent them from hospitalization and severe illness from COVID,” Nunnewar explained. 

Similarly to any other COVID vaccine, there will be individuals–parents in this case–who will be eager to get their children vaccinated as well as some who will be hesitant. 

“Many of the parents who want to get their kids vaccinated as soon as it comes, as well as people who believe in vaccines, have been asking me about this so I am excited about that. I will do the same [for my own kids],” Dr. Nunnewar shared.  “Some parents are still hesitant to do it since they believe that the vaccine is very new and they think that they will wait for a little more time to give it to their children until more vaccine safety data is available for younger kids.”

The data that Pfizer sent to the FDA is being meticulously reviewed as Pediatric vaccines are often handled with great care before being available to the public. Although the need to roll out a vaccine for kids is urgent, the FDA wants to ensure that “the safety profile is acceptable,” as acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock stated in a  podcast on Sept. 20. 

This vaccine, if authorized, could be a step closer to the end of the pandemic. There would be less limitations to who could get vaccinated since more of the population would be able to get a vaccine, resulting in a closer return to the life we knew years ago.