Allowing younger children to receive a smaller dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is an important step in battling the virus and infectious delta variant, pediatric health care specialists on Long Island said Monday.
Clinical trials of the vaccine in 5- to 11-year-olds showed it was both safe and provided strong protection against COVID-19, according to an announcement Monday from the pharmaceutical firms.
The data still must be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before children in that age group can receive the vaccine, but experts said it is an important first step.
"My initial reaction is that this is great news and what we have been waiting for," said Dr. Mundeep Kainth, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park. "They took their time to find the perfect dose, and that is reassuring."
Pfizer said the trial used two doses of 10 micrograms for children 5-11, as opposed to the two doses of 30 micrograms that is administered to people 12 years of age and older.
"Children are not just little adults," said Kainth, who is looking forward to seeing more data from the clinical trials that involved more than 2,200 children. "It's not just about their weight. It's also about their age and immunologic maturity."
Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief of Huntington Village Pediatrics said it’s important to get younger children vaccinated as soon as possible, noting an increase in child COVID-19 cases.
"We have definitely seen with the return to school over the last few weeks across the country a spike in hospitalizations of sick children," said Meltzer Krief, who sits on the executive council of the Long Island-Brooklyn/Queens chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Almost half of them have no underlying illness."
Since the start of the pandemic, almost 5.3 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19, according to figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics updated on Sept. 9.
The group said more than 243,000 cases were added in the most recent week available, which is the second-highest number of child COVID-19 cases recorded.
Meltzer Krief said more has to be done to increase the number of children and teens vaccinated against COVID-19. Statewide figures show 49% of those 12 to 15 have been fully vaccinated.
Having more people of all ages vaccinated will protect the community as a whole, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
"The essential question that we have with COVID is who's responsible for the spread of the pandemic, and it is unlikely that we would have a pandemic spread only by adults," Nachman said. "It's much more likely that children are contributing both to the illness and the spread.
"When you look at the numbers from New York now, about a quarter of all new infections are children," she added. "So, clearly the children are getting infected, and it's much more likely they're also participating in passing of infection. So again, the goal is to cut down on new infections in everybody. So, children have to participate in preventing just as much as they're unfortunately participating in passing."
While some parents are eager to get their kids inoculated against COVID-19, others have said they are hesitant because the vaccine has been used for less than a year and are concerned about possible side effects.
"I think that over time, more and more families will come to accept vaccination for their younger children, because it's something we all routinely do," Nachman said. "We vaccinate for polio and we've had no cases on Long Island for decades."
What to know
Pfizer and BioNTech announced results from a clinical trial of their COVID-19 vaccine in children between 5 and 11 years of age, showing the vaccine is safe and effective. Currently, only children 12 and over can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Children in the 5 to 11 age group would receive a smaller dose of the vaccine than that being administered to people 12 and over.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine data still must be reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.