Children ages 5 to 11 have now been cleared to get vaccinated for COVID. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in late October. During the pandemic, children ages 5 to 11 made up 39% of the cases in individuals 18 or younger and 146 deaths have been reported. Mandates are still weeks away while the FDA awaits full approval. By comparison, it took eight months for the adult vaccine to be approved and now parents and school officials are wondering what will happen next. Entrepreneur Tatrina Blaylock has two kids in Jackson Public Schools. She says vaccines for school aged children are nothing new so parents should have been prepared for this. “We have been required to get our kids [vaccinated] for decades now,” she said. “We’ve got to do what’s best for the safety of our babies.” The Delta variant ushered in what experts claim could be the last wave of the virus. The U.S. may soon reach a point similar to what happened during the flu epidemic of 1918, when that pandemic ended after enough Americans had gained immunity through infection.
Currently, 15 million pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine have become available for states to order in advance. Greta Adams is a nurse at St. Dominic’s hospital and mother to a six-year-old daughter. She said when she found out her daughter could get the vaccine, she felt relief.
“For me, it means new life. It’s her having a more normal childhood life experience,” she said. “As for school, it’s much safer when everyone is vaccinated. I really want school to get back to normal.” To date, 78% of people in the U.S. over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of the vaccine. And because the Delta variant was so transmissible, it has produced higher rates of natural immunity. Dr. Monica Northington says the kid-size vaccine will fight a disease that is as dangerous as the diseases school-aged children are already vaccinated against with a smaller percentage of transmission. If it doesn’t continue to transform, she says, then COVID will likely resemble measles or chicken pox.
“The vaccine is our greatest tool to make COVID-19 liveable. As from all indications. It is not going to disappear anytime soon,” she said. “If the benefits of immunization didn’t outweigh the risks, then we would not be recommending immunization in this age group.”
Many parents have expressed concern about how the vaccine will be administered and its long term effects. One noted risk is myocarditis which is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed, leading to symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath in children. Dr. Timothy Quinn says the chances of that are very slim. “In studies, there have been no incidents of myocarditis occurring,” he said. “We must note that if a child does contract coronavirus, they have a much better chance of a severe case of myocarditis than those who have taken the vaccine.
Recently, in Garland, Texas, two children under the age of 12 received adult doses of the COVID vaccine. According to the CDC, children ages 5 to 11 are suppose to be given a dose only one-third the size of an adult. That’s a possibility that scares Darryl Weathersby, who has a 5-year-old daughter.
“We just don’t know what the long term effects will be. I have reservations just because of how soon this vaccine was developed,” he said. “It’s one thing for adults to take it, but children’s bodies are much more delicate, especially 5 and 6 year olds. What if this messes them up for life?”
Northington says parents will be concerned that their children might accidentally receive the wrong vaccine or the wrong dose of the right vaccine. She says they should ask questions and not be afraid to ask staff to double check before their child is injected.
“I would encourage them to ask their physician, and not their family, their friends, or other parents on social media, what kinds of symptoms they should expect after their child is immunized,” she said. “Parents may also ask if the COVID vaccine can be given with other childhood immunizations.”
Starting this week, all state health departments in Mississippi will be delivering free shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Parents who want to get their kids vaccinated should go to the MSDH website to schedule or speak to a physician.