Dr. Rhonda Achonolu comforts her son Amechi, 7, as he...

Dr. Rhonda Achonolu comforts her son Amechi, 7, as he gets his first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in the Bronx, Wednesday.  Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

The kids are alright.

Parents across the country let out an enormous sigh of relief, even as their children may have shed a few tears, as pediatricians began to put shots into young arms last week.

The initial approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for 28 million children ages 5-11 marks an enormous milestone in the fight against the pandemic. It opens the door to big dreams, like classrooms of fully-vaccinated youngsters, playdates and birthday parties, and holidays with grandparents.

Eventually, perhaps, children in fully vaccinated settings might even be able to remove their masks. A Massachusetts high school with more than 80% of its population vaccinated began a three-week trial in which vaccinated students and staff are maskless.

That may not happen here right away. But this remains a pivotal moment. One by one, children who get vaccinated will be protected and will protect those around them.

That's not to say this will be simple. Some parents will pounce on the opportunity immediately, securing an appointment and getting their child shot #1 as quickly as possible. Others oppose the vaccinations altogether.

But in between those poles is a large group of parents who may have doubts or questions, or who want to wait. It'll be up to pediatricians and other trusted sources to reassure parents, by explaining what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized under emergency use, what the data says about the vaccine's effectiveness and safety, and why, exactly, the vaccine matters for children. And it'll be up to parents who trust their doctors to follow their advice.

Like adults and teens, children will receive two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine three weeks apart. But importantly, the dose for children is just 10 micrograms, compared with 30 micrograms for adults and those 12 and over. Even at that lower dose, the vaccine was found to be 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 among kids from age 5 to age 11, and in a study of about 3,100 children, no serious side effects occurred.

Some parents still erroneously assume that COVID-19 is rare among children and that it doesn't ever affect them severely. The numbers tell a different story, as across the United States, more than a third of COVID-19 cases are in those younger than 18, with thousands of children ages 5 to 11 hospitalized. That's why this matters so much.

Now, state officials must make sure the vaccine is widely available, that every pediatrician and pharmacist who wants a supply has it, and that every family has easy access. Making it available at schools and after-school programs will be key. A new state website with resources for families and a network of vaccination locations for kids is helpful, too.

A gentle pinch and a small bandage for our children offers a new way forward.

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.

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