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Shots for kids a very big deal

Alejandra Gerardo, 9, gets a shot during a

Alejandra Gerardo, 9, gets a shot during a Pfizer vaccine trial in March in North Carolina. Credit: AP/Shawn Rocco

It's hard to overestimate the importance of Pfizer's announcement Monday that its vaccine, in a lower dose, is both safe and effective in children ages 5 to 11.

One illustration of its potential impact was found in another announcement the same day: Six students in Uniondale's elementary and middle schools had tested positive for COVID-19. That came on the heels of 32 cases reported in Levittown schools. And for sure, there are cases popping up in many school buildings.

While children are at lower risk of severe disease, the delta variant continues to be a great concern. Nearly 30,000 kids nationwide were hospitalized in August alone. Even mild cases could result in long-term impacts.

So there's an urgent need for a vaccine that can protect our kids and, in turn, help to keep safe their even-younger siblings and vulnerable family members.

The Pfizer vaccine seems to give children that protection. A study of 2,268 children showed the vaccine provided significant antibodies and few side effects. Importantly, that positive response came at one-third of the dose now given to older children and adults.

Details are still to come. Pfizer could apply to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization by the end of September. If all goes well, children could get their first shots before Halloween.

A sense of relief and optimism comes with potentially having kids partially vaccinated before they trick or treat or celebrate in classroom parties. There's the possibility that by Thanksgiving, generations of fully vaccinated families could gather safely.

But before that can happen, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must give the Pfizer data the urgent, yet deliberate, attention it requires. If the data is as good as Pfizer claims, approval should come soon.

Then the work begins. Regulators and pediatricians will have to explain the findings in clear, consumer-friendly ways, ease parental concerns, encourage them to allow their children to be vaccinated, and combat the misinformation and scare tactics that still percolate.

Meanwhile, New York officials and school districts should collaborate on the best way to provide the vaccine to children. That can include bringing mobile units to schools, so the vaccine is available before and after the school day. And pediatricians should have direct access to the shot, so children can get this vaccine just like they get any other, in the offices of doctors they and their parents know. Now that the FDA allows the Pfizer vaccine to be stored in refrigerators for up to one month, it should be easier for pediatricians to more readily provide it.

In the end, though, the most important role will be played by parents, who must trust the science and their doctors. Then they can hold their children's hands, as a small prick in young arms helps to protect them and all around them.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.