COVID vaccines are finally available for the nearly 20 million children under the age of five in the United States — the last segment of the population without disease protection — just in time for the new school year, following a four-month delay that has put worried parents through hell.
Even now, despite their gratitude and excitement, many caregivers are disappointed with how things went down.
“I’m definitely excited and planning to get my kids vaccinated as soon as possible,” Kathleen Coda, mother of a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, said in an email. “It’s reopening the world and making me less resentful of everyone who chose to move on and stop taking precautions before our children could be protected.”
The Pfizer vaccine for children aged six months to four years was supposed to be approved in February, but the FDA abruptly changed its mind. After clinical trials revealed that two doses of the vaccine did not provide adequate protection in children aged 2 to 4, the agency wanted to collect more data on their efficacy (although it did in babies ages 6 months to 1 year.)
Two months later, in April, Moderna requested approval for its vaccine for children under the age of six, citing a clinical trial that found the shot to be safe and effective. However, the FDA did not meet until June 15 to review the data for both shots.
Both the FDA and the CDC agreed that it made the most sense to conduct a joint review after Pfizer released data on a third dose, which it did at the end of May, and to expand eligibility to children under the age of five for both shots at the same time. The CDC backed the FDA’s decision on June 18, nearly eight months after the first vaccine was approved for children aged five to eleven.
During this period of limbo, Coda’s worst nightmare came true. Her 1-year-old son, who had open-heart surgery at 6 weeks old to repair a defect, contracted COVID alongside his parents.
“Overall, I felt let down by the general public and government agencies that recommended ending the mask mandates and other precautions before the vaccines were available for our children,” Coda said. “And having [my kids] get it before [the vaccines] were available was just a kick in the pants.”
Many caregivers in the United States, which is the first country in the world to offer COVID vaccines to children as young as six months, are relieved that they will no longer have to rely on others to ensure their children’s safety.
“For so long, I’ve just had to take calculated risks and make decisions about how social we can be, who we can spend time with, and practise radical acceptance of many, many people in my life choosing not to get vaccinated,” Gretchen, a mother of 1-year-old twins who preferred to use only her first name, explained. “At least now I can vaccinate my children and have that protection for them that isn’t reliant on anyone else,” she wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News.
The vaccine rollout begins with shaky steps.
Vaccine distribution for children under the age of five will differ from that for older children and adults, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID response coordinator.
Instead of mass vaccination sites, most jabs will be administered at doctor’s offices, health clinics, pharmacies, and children’s hospitals because that is what parents prefer, Jha wrote on Twitter.
“We want to build a response and availability system that is responsive to parents’ needs and desires,” he said, adding that as sites receive their first orders, which were shipped last week, more vaccines and appointments will become available.
However, eager caregivers are already encountering problems, which they attribute to poor government planning.
Lauren Thompson told us that she called her local health department in Virginia last week to see if her county would have vaccines for children under the age of five as soon as they became available. Before ordering any shots, she was told that they were “waiting to see if there was a demand.” Thompson’s paediatrician then informed her that while their office is “interested” in the vaccine, it will not be available when it is first made available.
“It’s really upsetting that I had to call so many places to find out what their distribution plans were.” We’ve known about this for a long time, and it’s clear that there isn’t a plan in place for families like mine,” Thompson wrote in an email. “Families with small children have been largely ignored, and this has been no exception.”
Thompson said she’s rushing to get her 3-year-old vaccinated before she starts pre-K this fall. She was able to get a vaccine appointment at Walgreens, but she said she would have travelled to a neighbouring county that confirmed it was offering the shots at a government-run centre — a trip she admits not everyone is privileged enough to make.
“I’m grateful that I have PTO as well as a car to be able to travel there,” she said. “How come there was no solid distribution plan?” “Why is everything so unfair?”
During a press conference on June 8, government officials estimated that approximately 85 percent of children under the age of five live within 5 miles of a potential vaccination site.
On vaccines.gov, you can find nearby providers who have vaccines in stock.
As the coronavirus evolves, experts recommend vaccination.
According to the most recent CDC data, more than 2.5 million children under the age of five have contracted COVID since the pandemic began.
COVID has risen to become the fourth leading cause of death in infants and the fifth leading cause of death in children aged one to four in the United States. According to death certificates as of May 11, more than 200 children in this age group had died from the disease.
COVID has also caused more deaths in this age group in the United States than other infectious diseases before vaccines were available, including those caused by meningococcal bacteria and viruses such as hepatitis A, varicella, rubella, and rotavirus.
When the more contagious omicron variant took over in January, infections in this age group skyrocketed. However, doctors are concerned about the next variant. That is why they recommend that children under the age of five get vaccinated even if they have already had COVID: it may provide protection against future variants.
Dr. Diego Hijano, a paediatric infectious disease specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, wrote in an email, “Getting vaccinated after having COVID-19 will give your child the best defence against new variants of the virus.” “If a child — or anyone — contracts COVID-19, there is no way to predict whether the infection will be mild or severe, and treatment options for COVID-19 in young children are limited.”
According to research, “hybrid immunity” (previous infection plus vaccine) provides better protection for children than either one or the other. In the meantime, vaccines can generate antibodies that are more effective against all known coronavirus variants than infection alone.
“Keep in mind that the virus is constantly changing,” Hijano cautioned. “As the virus evolves, the body’s defences against reinfection become less effective.”
Data show that even healthy children are at risk of severe illness. So far, approximately half of the children under the age of five who have been hospitalised with COVID have had no underlying medical conditions.
“Kids can get COVID, get sick, and die from it,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote on Twitter. “It’s critical to remember that children are not *supposed* to be hospitalised or die. And it’s all because of vaccines.”
Not to mention, vaccination can reduce the risk of infection and thus the risk of developing long COVID.
Marissa Burgo told us in February that parents like her had had a “vaccine dangled in front of them” for far too long. For the first time, she is able to engage in mundane activities with her 1-year-old in a safe environment.
“For our family, the vaccine means swim lessons, toddler time at the library, going to friends’ houses, and flying again now that the mask mandate has been lifted,” Burgo said in an email following the authorization. “It means feeling secure at my niece’s bat mitzvah in the fall, when our large extended family will congregate indoors.” It means a slew of long-awaited firsts for both our baby and our family.”
What you should know about COVID vaccines for infants and toddlers
This vaccine is administered in three doses to children under the age of five. The first two shots are spaced three to eight weeks apart. The children will then have to wait at least two months for their third.
Booster doses are not currently permitted for this age group. According to the CDC, only people aged 5 and up should get a booster shot at this time.
And, yes, children can receive their COVID vaccines alongside other vaccinations.
In the clinical trial, the Pfizer vaccine series was about 80% effective, but this was based on only 10 COVID cases that occurred during the study period. Nonetheless, health officials believe that a third dose provides adequate protection to prevent severe illness.
The most common vaccine side effects in children aged 6 months to 1 year were fever, decreased appetite, drowsiness, and irritability. Children ages 2 to 4 may experience fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, fatigue, chills, and new or worsened muscle or joint pain.
All symptoms should go away within one to two days.
This vaccine is administered in two doses, one month apart.
It is 51% effective in children aged 6 months to 1 year and 37% effective in children aged 2 to 5 years. The level of protection provided by this vaccine against the omicron variant in children is comparable to that provided by the Moderna vaccine in adults.
Fatigue, chills, fever, headache, nausea, and pain at the injection site are among the side effects, which are similar to but slightly more severe than those associated with the Pfizer vaccine. There may also be swelling in the armpit of the vaccinated arm.