A COVID-19 vaccine for children under five years old may finally be approved this upcoming week, with shots going into little arms before the end of the month, medical experts said.
Scientists at the FDA on Friday said Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for infants and young children was safe and effective. The FDA is expected to release its assessment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the next few days.
An FDA advisory committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the vaccines, with a final decision by that agency and the Centers for Disease Control possibly coming within days.
That would make the vaccine available for about 20 million children ages six months to four years old — the only age group still not approved for the shots.
WHAT TO KNOW
- A COVID-19 vaccine for children under five years old could be approved this week by the FDA and the CDC.
- Shots could go into arms before the end of the month, medical experts said.
- Doctors welcomed the news, though some parents said there had been too many delays.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha has said the long-awaited vaccinations could begin as early as June 21.
Medical experts on Long Island are welcoming the news, though some parents say the development of the shots has taken too long — more than two years into the pandemic.
“Thank God, but it’s taken way too long,” said Evelyn Pineiro, a teacher and mother of two children under five who lives in Valley Stream.
She said that other than preschool for her oldest son, she has largely tried to keep her children in a bubble since they could not get vaccinated against the virus. She is even more worried now that most people have ditched masks.
“Society is done with masking and any precautions and is literally leaving our kids out in the cold. So I’m very frustrated,” she said.
Despite the delays, medical experts said the approval — which they expect — is an important step forward in bringing the pandemic under control.
“As a parent of a young child in this age group, I am excited,” said Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of Northwell Health’s vaccine program. “As a pediatrician, it provides me with a sense of relief that we’re going to protect this very, very vulnerable group.”
Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, a pediatrician in Huntington, said: “Parents have been really concerned about their children being exposed. Now we’ll be able to protect them.”
While COVID-19 generally causes mild symptoms in children, hundreds have died of the virus in the United States, she said, and medical experts still don’t fully understand the potential long-term consequences of COVID-19.
“We’ve seen hundreds of children in that age group die, and to know there is something that could effectively and safely prevent that is really heartening,” she said.
The U.S. government says it has about 5 million doses available initially, and has been allowing pharmacies and states to pre-order.
About 1.45 million of the 2.5 million available doses of Pfizer have been ordered, with about 850,000 of the Moderna shots ordered, officials said.
As of Wednesday, healthcare providers throughout New York State have pre-ordered a total of 28,500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for children under five years of age — 7,900 doses of Moderna and 20,600 doses of Pfizer vaccine, state Department of Health spokesman Jeffrey Hammond said in an email. Of the 28,500 total doses, Long Island providers have pre-ordered 1,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4,100 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Meltzer-Krief said her office has preordered several hundred doses from the state.
Medical experts said the best place to get the shots — and to have questions answered — is through a child’s pediatrician. Pharmacies and health care systems will also have the shots available.
Meltzer-Krief and others said they hope there will be strong demand for the shots among parents, but it’s unclear if that will happen. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggested that fewer than one in five parents of young children would get their kids vaccinated right away.
On Long Island, about a third of the age group right above them, children between the ages of 5 and 11, have been fully vaccinated, according to state statistics.
The Pfizer vaccine for those four and under would be two primary doses taken 21 days apart, followed by a third shot two months later. The doses are one-tenth the strength given adults.
Moderna vaccines would be given in two shots taken 28 days apart. Those shots each contain a quarter of the dose given to adults.
Clinical trials showed the vaccines to be effective and safe, Harris said. The Pfizer shots, for instance, were between 94% and 100% effective at preventing severe disease in the age group.
Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, said she suggests parents start the shots with their children as soon as possible, since it could take a few months to get full protection.
That would put them in a good position once school restarts and another possible surge arrives starting sometime in November, she said.
She noted that hospitals are also seeing an uptick in young children being admitted with COVID-19 — another reason to get the shots.
She added that “I think it is exciting that we will have choices of two different vaccines,” assuming both Pfizer and Moderna get approved.
Both vaccines saw delays along the way, for various reasons. Pfizer earlier this year decided to delay seeking federal approval because the company was not satisfied with the efficacy level at that point.
Harris said that was a positive, because it shows Pfizer did not push for approval until the vaccine’s safety and efficacy were solid.
“They did they right thing. They pulled back,” Harris said. “Let’s not bring something to the table that doesn’t get the job done. Because they don’t want parents and physicians, frankly, to lose confidence in their products.”
Pineiro said that despite her frustrations, she will get her children vaccinated as soon as possible.
“We’ve given up so many things for two years to protect our kids,” she said, noting her family has not attended weddings, funerals or other public events, and only visit with friends outdoors. “This is the only life they have known.”