Pfizer’s request to the government to use its COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 is a major step in the battle to bring the pandemic to an end, medical experts on Long Island said Thursday.
But health providers also face a challenge because polls show many American parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children, they said.
"It’s a major and critically needed step forward," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. "We need to be able to have the entire family protected from COVID, and ignoring children or leaving them out of the vaccination equation just allows them to get sick and bring something back to the rest of the family where other people will be at risk."
Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, agreed that Pfizer’s move marked a potential turning point.
"I think it’s a big moment for parents out there who have been incredibly concerned about simple things like sending their children to school or to extracurricular activities, or even to grandma and grandpa’s house," Kainth said.
"It’s been a long haul for parents like myself and also physicians like myself who have been seeing children hospitalized with COVID," she added.
Pfizer's move came as Long Island registered nearly 800 new daily cases of COVID-19, illustrating how the pandemic is persisting in the region as many people go unvaccinated.
Reduced dose for kids
If regulators give the go-ahead to Pfizer’s request, reduced-dose kids' shots could begin within a matter of weeks for the roughly 28 million U.S. children in that age group.
Many parents and pediatricians are clamoring for protection for children under 12, the current age cutoff for COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States. Not only can youngsters sometimes get seriously ill, but keeping them in school can be a challenge with the coronavirus still raging in poorly vaccinated communities.
The Food and Drug Administration will decide whether there is enough evidence that the shots are safe and will work in younger children as they do in teens and adults. An independent expert panel will publicly debate the evidence on Oct. 26.
Dr. Uzma Syed, an infectious disease specialist at Catholic Health's Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, called Pfizer’s application "really welcome news."
"Many of us thought this would be sooner," she said. "We have been seeing record numbers of infections in the pediatric population over the summer, and it’s been really alarming to see the number of kids affected by COVID-19. It really is imperative that we try to vaccinate the people who are most vulnerable."
Talk to child's doctor
All three doctors say some parents will resist using the vaccine in their children, but the approval process is solid and they believe it will be approved as safe.
Parents should talk to their children’s primary health care provider about the shots, they said, instead of relying on information from social media.
The primary care doctor or nurse practitioner "is really the expert in your child’s medical care, and that’s the best person to talk to" about the vaccine, Nachman said. "That would be much better than just getting opinions from people who actually don’t know your child or are not involved in your child’s care."
"I think we are looking at a safe and we’re looking at an effective vaccine," Kainth said. "If I could get my kids vaccinated now, I would."
Polls show as few as a third of parents are ready to get their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated, she said, "but really it should be the other way around," with 70% ready.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said their research showed the younger kids should get one-third of the dose now given to everyone else. After their second dose, the 5- to 11-year-olds developed virus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as those that teens and young adults get from regular-strength shots.
520 children die of virus
Although kids are at lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed children — at least 520 so far in the United States, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. And cases in youngsters have skyrocketed as the extra-contagious delta variant has swept through the country.
"The unvaccinated population unfortunately is susceptible to severe disease and hospitalization and even death," Syed said. "It’s not OK or acceptable for children to get sick, for children to be hospitalized, for children to die."
Underscoring how the pandemic is far from over on Long Island, the region registered 774 new daily cases of COVID-19 in test results from Wednesday. Nassau had 321 new cases, while Suffolk had 453. New York City logged 1,565 new cases.
Across the state, 23 people died on Wednesday of causes linked to COVID-19, including two in Suffolk and one in Nassau.
The seven-day average for positivity in testing for the virus continued to inch down, hitting 2.71% in the region compared to 2.74% the previous day. The statewide average was 2.43%, up from 2.37% on Tuesday, state data shows.
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