The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced approval for emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in younger teens, aged 12-15.
This is exciting news for pediatricians like Dr. Katie Hryniewicz, also known simply as “Dr. Katie,” a Pediatrician at Palouse Pediatrics, part of the Pullman Regional Hospital Clinic Network.
The next step to look forward to is younger teens and children being eligible to receive the vaccine.
“I am hoping that those younger than 11, so that five to 11-year age range, we might have data by late fall of 2021 or very early 2022. Time will tell, but I’m really hoping we'll have some ability to vaccinate those younger kids by that point,” states Dr. Katie.
Why Are Kids the Last to Be Approved?
There are a few different reasons it’s taken some time for COVID-19 vaccination to reach younger populations. Dr. Katie explains that medical trials always start in the population that is most at risk—having the highest burden of illness, hospitalization, and death. In the case of the coronavirus, that meant older adults and those with certain preexisting conditions.
Once that data has been studied, trials can then include younger individuals. This process is called “age de-escalation trials,” where research starts with adolescents who are closest to the physiology in adults, and then slowly works its way down to younger and younger populations.
“We have to get kid data, because kids aren’t just ‘little adults.’ They have different immune systems; they respond differently. So, they need their own dedicated study,” notes Dr. Katie. “Often, this means trialing different doses to ensure we have the right dose for maximum benefit and least amount of side effects. That just takes time.”
Another issue is that pediatric trials—and not just those surrounding vaccination—often require more time to enroll participants. “People are just more hesitant to enroll kids in trials,” adds Dr. Katie.
Why Is It Important for Kids to Get Vaccinated?
It’s been proven that the pediatric population is overall at a lower risk in regards to COVID-19. However, there are medically fragile kids who would benefit from the vaccine. Even in healthy children, severe outcomes can occur.
“There are 74 million children in the U.S., about 24% of our population. If we're assuming that to get back to some sense of normalcy and get kids back to some sense of normalcy—and wanting to hit that herd immunity threshold we hear people talk about—it’s clear that kids are going to be part of that equation,” shares Dr. Katie.
Are the COVID-19 Vaccines Safe?
Of course, the question on many parents’ minds is, “Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?” Misinformation has been circulating, making it confusing for those outside the medical community. This is when the advice of experts like Dr. Katie is so valuable.
“I could get into all the minutiae of safety, but I think the most important thing is that this vaccine—even though the development felt rapid—went through full clinical trials. They did not skip any safety steps. It had independent reviewers, and it has really robust, ongoing monitoring as well through different modalities,” she assures. “And, at this point, 140 million people in the U.S. alone have received at least one dose of these vaccines. That’s a lot of people, and serious side effects have been really rare.”
Even If Your Child Can’t Get Vaccinated, Here’s What YOU Can Do
While 2022 seems a long ways away, Dr. Katie says the best way to protect children not yet eligible for vaccination is for people who are eligible to take advantage of the opportunity. This includes parents, grandparents, teachers, childcare providers, and anyone else who comes in contact with unvaccinated populations.
“We pediatricians call this cocooning. It's a concept we use in newborns, with getting caregivers influenza or TDAP vaccines to protect the babies. I think that is what will get our overall prevalence down, which will protect children in the meantime.”
For questions about the vaccine and your child, contact Palouse Pediatrics.
- Palouse Pediatrics - Pullman: 509-332-2605
- Palouse Pediatrics - Moscow: 208-882-2247
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