Utah parents can begin coordinating vaccine appointments with pediatricians and family doctors for children ages 5 to 11 after U.S. health officials on Tuesday gave the final signoff for Pfizer’s kid-size COVID-19 shot.
The federal green light for the age group marked a major expansion of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign. The Food and Drug Administration last week authorized the shots, which come in doses that amount to a third of what is given to those 12 and older. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must recommend who should receive FDA-cleared vaccines.
The final hurdle was cleared Tuesday evening after CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed the recommendation of a CDC advisory panel, which unanimously decided Tuesday afternoon that the FDA-authorized shots should be opened to the roughly 28 million children in the U.S. ages 5 to 11.
Vaccine access for children in Utah
In Utah, it’s unclear if the child-size doses will be readily available at every clinic in the state, Dr. Neal Davis, medical director of pediatric community-based care for Intermountain Healthcare, said in a Tuesday news conference.
Davis explained that Intermountain and other health care providers are working together with the Utah Department of Health to distribute the child-sized Pfizer doses, which the federal government will deliver over the next few days. His clinic plans to begin administering shots to young children next week, he said.
“It’s going to be important to call your local clinic to find out how to sign up and get that for your child,” Davis advised Utah parents. “Other clinics as well, around the state, are going to be having plans as well. It’s always a good idea to touch base with your child’s medical provider clinic to find out the system for being able to get the vaccine.”
Outside of family medical clinics, Davis said that there are other venues for young children to receive the vaccine. Primary Children’s Hospital will soon begin administering child-size doses at the “shot spot” in the Eccles Outpatient Care Center, as well as at the hospital’s community pharmacy, Davis said.
He indicated that other pharmacies around the state are “prepped and ready to follow the same chain of events to give the vaccine as well.”
Children 5 to 11 years old receive a 1/3 dose because children are smaller than adults and their immune systems respond more robustly, Davis said. The 5- to 11-year-olds will still receive two shots, three weeks apart — the same schedule as everyone else eligible, though the doses will be administered in a smaller needle as well, he said.
“Children have been impacted by COVID, both directly by its infection, and also its impact on school and other parts of their lives,” Davis said. “This is a really big step forward to be able to make the lives of children better.”
‘The vaccine is very safe’
The COVID-19 vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines, Davis said. Children who had COVID-19 still need to get the vaccine, because there is “much stronger protection that happens with the vaccine,” Davis said, including for the delta variant.
Pfizer’s study of 2,268 youngsters found the kid-size vaccine is nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 — based on 16 diagnoses among kids given dummy shots compared to just three who got the real vaccination.
The FDA examined more children, a total of 3,100 who were vaccinated, in concluding the shots are safe. The younger children experienced similar or fewer reactions — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — than teens or young adults can get after larger doses.
That study wasn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second full-strength dose, mostly in young men and teen boys. Regulators ultimately decided that the benefits from vaccination outweigh the potential that younger kids getting a smaller dose also might experience that rare risk.
For some parents, deciding to get their children vaccinated may hinge on that small but scary risk, some of the CDC’s advisers said.
“The risk of some sort of bad heart involvement is much higher if you get COVID than if you get this vaccine,” Dr. Matthew Oster, a pediatric cardiologist at Emory University, told the CDC advisory panel. “COVID is much riskier to the heart.”
Davis noted that more than 100 children in Utah who contracted COVID-19 developed multi-system inflammatory syndrome, which can impact the heart and other organ systems. More than 600 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state since the start of the pandemic.
“The vaccine is very safe,” Davis added. “The benefits far outweigh the risks for getting the vaccine.”
One way to tell that doctors are confident in the safety of the vaccine for children is that many want the shots for their own kids, said Dr. Emily Spivak, an infectious diseases specialist at University of Utah Hospital.
“I just ran into a colleague in the hall, who asked, ‘Are we ready to go?’,” Spivak said during a community COVID-19 briefing Tuesday. “I have many physician friends here and around the country, even today, who ask, ‘When can we get it?’ … Most physician parents that I know will get their kids vaccinated, if they can, by the end of the week.”
— Tribune reporter Sean P. Means and The Associated Press Health and Science Department contributed to this story. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.