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Local medical experts hail effectiveness of Pfizer shot in younger kids

The shots for children ages 5 to 11

The shots for children ages 5 to 11 could begin early next month if regulators give the go-ahead. Credit: Mike Groll/Office of Governor An/Mike Groll

Medical experts on Long Island on Friday hailed the news from Pfizer that its vaccine appears safe and nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infections in 5- to 11-year-olds.

The experts said the widespread use of the vaccine in that age group would mark an important step in bringing the pandemic under control or to an end.

"I think it’s great news because it works and it’s safe," said Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. "We are hoping this will get us back to our normal school environments and this will be a step to reducing the mental health crisis we are seeing in kids and children that has emerged since the pandemic."

Study details of the Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11 were released Friday as the United States considers opening vaccinations to that age group.

The shots could begin early next month, with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas, if regulators give the go-ahead. That would represent a major expansion of the nation’s vaccine drive, encompassing roughly 28 million elementary school-age youngsters.

Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will publicly debate the evidence next week. If the agency itself authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final decision on who should receive them.

Dr. Uzma Syed, an infectious disease specialist at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Cneter in West Islip, also called the study results "great news" and said she was especially encouraged that they did not show the vaccine causing major side effects.

While some children may not be as hard-hit by the virus as adults are, growing numbers are still getting infected, and some are being hospitalized or dying, she said.

When unvaccinated children get infected, they "can still transmit the virus just as much whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic," she said.

Kainth said another worry is children getting "long COVID" — health problems that linger for months after the person is infected, even in people who initially had mild symptoms.

For parents hesitant to vaccinate their children against COVID-19, Kainth pointed out they are already inoculating their children against many other diseases such as chickenpox and measles that have far fewer cases in circulation.

"If you are already vaccinating your children against other infectious diseases, this should be considered no different," she said. "We are in a pandemic and we want to make sure our children are safe."

Full-strength Pfizer shots already are authorized for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem rising infections and record hospitalizations among them from the extra-contagious delta variant, and to help keep kids in school.

Dr. Andrew Handel, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said in a Newsday webinar Friday that given the Pfizer vaccine’s safety and efficacy level, for parents "the safest thing ... is getting it as soon as you can so that you can help your child avoid a COVID infection at all."

While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta variant surged, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

Moderna also is studying its COVID-19 shots in elementary school-age youngsters. Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger children as well, those as young as 6 months old. Results are expected later in the year.

Meanwhile, Long Island logged 520 new daily cases of COVID-19 in test results from Thursday: Nassau County registered 200 cases, while Suffolk County had 320.

New York City tallied 859 new cases.

The seven-day average for positivity in testing continued a slow decline on Long Island, dipping to 2.34% in test results from Thursday. The statewide average was 2.20%.

Statewide, 25 people died Thursday of causes linked to COVID-19, including three in Nassau and four in Suffolk.

With AP

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