Monday’s highly anticipated announcement from Pfizer arrives at the right time for weary parents, teachers, nurses – anybody who wants elementary-age schoolchildren inoculated against COVID-19.
With another COVID winter approaching and hundreds of local children either sick with the virus, symptomatic or quarantined because of close contacts, Pfizer announced its clinical trials measuring effectiveness and safety of its vaccine showed a strong antibody response – and virtually no adverse effects – for children between the ages of 5 and 11.
The vaccine trials will now be forwarded for federal emergency use approval, and children could be getting their first shots in October.
Based on past performance of distribution of the vaccine to adults and older children earlier this year, local officials could be ready with vaccine clinics at public facilities such as schools and other venues.
“We would continue to work with our local partners, the Spokane Regional Health District,” said Marla Nunberg, communications director for the Central Valley School District.
However, it’s unclear whether availability will translate into mass vaccinations.
In Washington, 52% of 12- to 15-year-olds have received at least one doze of the Pfizer vaccine; that’s the lowest rate of any age group.
In Spokane County, 40% of 12- to 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
News of the new child’s dose was a morale booster for doctors.
“I think pediatricians everywhere are incredibly excited about this opportunity to directly protect the younger age group,” said Dr. Danielle Zerr, medical director of infection prevention at Seattle Children’s Hospital, on Monday. “And when we consider school settings and group settings for kids, it will be a huge step forward in safety for kids.”
However, there is no guaranteed timeline on when children in Spokane can roll up their sleeves; that depends largely on the timeline followed by national health officials.
Expect school districts in Spokane County to follow the guidance and timeline set by health officials for the 10-microgram dose for children.
“The 10-microgram dose was carefully selected as the preferred dose for safety, tolerability and immunogenicity in children 5 to 11 years of age,” Pfizer said in its news release.
Participants’ immune responses were measured by looking at neutralizing antibody levels in their blood and comparing those levels to a control group of 16- to 25-year-olds who were given a two-dose regimen with the larger 30-microgram dose, according to reporting from CNN.
Pfizer also said the levels compared well with older people who received the larger dose, demonstrating a “strong immune response in this cohort of children one month after the second dose.”
Now the vaccine must move through administrative channels.
Pfizer is expected to submit an application for emergency use authorization to the Food and Drug Administration within a few days.
After that, the timeline is unclear. During the recent controversy over booster shots for adults, FDA officials made it clear that they won’t be pushed into moving faster, not even by the White House.
“I have no information to share about timing at this time,” said FDA spokesperson Abigail Capobianco told Yahoo News Monday in response to an inquiry about whether Pfizer’s announcement would speed the approval process.
“A lot depends on the FDA, which is why I am not saying it will happen by Halloween,” said Dr. Kavita Patel, a former Obama administration policy aide who is now a Brookings Institution fellow told Yahoo News.
“Also, it’s not like we will have all kids vaccinated once the FDA makes its decision on authorizing the vaccine for young children ages 5 to 11.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet next week to discuss further clinical recommendations for the vaccine.
“That has typically occurred within a couple days of FDA approval, and I think that that would likely occur here again – and once that’s in place then vaccines can be used,” said pediatrician Evan Anderson, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
In the meantime, Pfizer said in a statement emailed to CNN on Monday that it continues to focus on supplying the vaccine for those who are currently eligible to receive the shot.
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