When Kids Under 5 Can Finally Get Their COVID Vaccines
After a wait that seemed endless, two COVID vaccines are finally authorized for children under 5 years old. The FDA’s advisory panel voted Wednesday to grant emergency use authorization to both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines for children aged 6 months and up.
What’s next, and when can my kids get their shots?
There are a few more regulatory steps before the vaccines will be available. The CDC’s advisory panel needs to meet and decide on its recommendations for the new vaccines. After that—once FDA authorization and CDC recommendations are in place—providers can start giving the vaccines. If all goes well, that could be as soon as early next week.
The vaccine regiment differs by vaccine type. Two doses of the Moderna vaccine are meant to be given four weeks apart, while the three-dose Pfizer vaccine has a three-week delay between the first and second shot, and eight weeks between the second and third.
The vaccines in the trials were not given at the same time as other childhood vaccines. When COVID vaccines were first recommended for adults, there was supposed to be a two-week waiting period between getting a COVID vaccines and any other vaccine; that rule was later dropped. We don’t know yet if the CDC will say there needs to be a similar waiting period for these youth vaccines.
How well do the vaccines work?
Pfizer’s vaccine is a three-dose regimen. Trials showed that two doses were only 28% effective against symptomatic illness, but that with the third dose, effectiveness jumped to 80%. But this last analysis was based on just a small amount of data, and some regulators are skeptical of the numbers.
Moderna’s two-dose vaccine was 51% effective against symptomatic COVID in children under 2 years old, and 37% effective in 2- through 5-year-olds.
Which vaccine is better for kids under 5?
Experts warn that the vaccine efficacy numbers aren’t directly comparable. The two vaccines were tested at different times in the pandemic, and the numbers for each were produced via different types of analyses. It’s possible that the Moderna vaccine really will work better in real world conditions, but we won’t know for sure for a while yet. If you’re trying to decide between the two, Moderna’s two-dose regimen is certainly easier to schedule, and kids will have protection a lot sooner.
Booster recommendations aren’t in place yet, but it seems safe to assume that both will require boosters at some point.
What concerns do experts have?
First, there is the fact that COVID tends to be milder in children than in adults. That means some parents and experts are questioning how beneficial a vaccine can be. But we do know that half of children who were hospitalized for COVID didn’t have underlying conditions, and also that with Omicron, young children in this age group faced a similar risk of severe symptoms as older children.
The side effects of these vaccines are similar to other childhood vaccines: irritability, crying, sometimes a fever.
We’ll learn more when the CDC puts out their final recommendations, but based on what we know now? If I had a kid under 5, I know I’d get them vaccinated.