Now that the CDC has given final approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 shots for children ages 5 to 11, the vaccine could be available at pediatricians, pharmacies and elsewhere across Long Island by the end of the week, officials said Tuesday.
Health experts contend vaccinating younger children is key to slowing and controlling the coronavirus pandemic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday night approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for more than 28 million U.S. children ages 5 to 11.The decision came hours after a CDC advisory panel recommended the shots for kids.
"[The panel] balanced the needs of the population with the ability of the vaccine to make a difference," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. "And their conclusion was that the vaccine will in fact save lives. It will cut down on hospitalizations. And certainly will help to the potential of getting rid of the COVID pandemic."
A clinical Pfizer trial of 2,268 children ages of 5 to 11 showed the vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing symptomatic infection.
Children will get a smaller dose of the vaccine — 10 micrograms per dose, as opposed to the 30 micrograms dose for adults. Clinical trials showed some side effects, Pfizer said, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious diseases at Northwell Health, said myocarditis — or inflammation of the heart muscle — was extremely rare with the 5-to-11 group, and was more common with those receiving the Moderna vaccine, especially among males ages 12 to 29. But the risk of myocarditis is greater after contracting the coronavirus than from the vaccine, he said.
"The risk-benefit ratio from this vaccine is overwhelmingly in favor of giving it," Farber said. "And any concern I had about myocarditis has really been put on hold. Considering what's going on with COVID in the world and how susceptible children are, and how they can spread it, people should absolutely get this vaccine for their children."
Dr. Marc Lashley, a pediatrician in Valley Stream who leads the COVID-19 vaccine task force for the Melville-based Allied Physicians Group, says he has received vials of the children's vaccine and is ready to start giving shots Wednesday.
Pfizer, to date, is the only vaccine available for those 12 and up. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can only be administered to people 18 and older, but both are exploring use in younger populations. Pfizer already had received emergency use authorization from the FDA for children 12 and older.
It remains unclear how eager parents will be to get their preteen children vaccinated. State figures show that more than 54% of children ages of 12 to 15 on Long Island have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, far less than the figures for adults.
"There will be a group of people who can't wait to get it for their children and will be running out to get an appointment," Farber said. "And there's going to be a significant number of people who will wait a little while until it's been given to more kids to make sure they are comfortable."
Many doctors believe parents will be more comfortable having the vaccine administered by a trusted pediatrician or pharmacist, rather than the massive government sites that were used to vaccinate adults and older teens earlier this year.
Suffolk County has 152,574 children ages 5-13, and there are 146,850 children those ages in Nassau County, according to 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Any susceptible group where you can make inroads, where you can reduce replication, reduce transmission and reduce illness can only translate into an overall benefit against the continued onslaught of the pandemic," said Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of infectious disease at Catholic Health St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center in Roslyn.
On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, would be a vaccination site for the new pediatric vaccine. Youth who get vaccinated there will be eligible to receive two tickets to a game or concert, Hochul said.
"We want to make sure that when this vaccine is available that every kid says to their mom, dad or their guardian, 'I want to take my shot so I can be safe. I don't want to worry about this,' " Hochul said at a briefing at Barclays attended by arena executives, team players and Brooklyn students.
Hochul also signed legislation Tuesday making the vaccine permanently available at pharmacies. Authorization for pharmacies to distribute the vaccine previously had been temporary and was set to expire in the coming months.
The statewide COVID-19 positivity rate Monday was just over 3%, while the seven-day average was 2.24%. On Long Island, the infection rate was 2.15%, with 171 Nassau residents and 192 Suffolk residents testing positive for the virus. Statewide, 20 New Yorkers succumbed to COVID-19, including one Suffolk resident.
With Lisa L. Colangelo
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