For many parents of kids under age 5, a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine could not come soon enough. A full year and a half after shots first became available for adults, their wait is nearly over.
On June 17, 2022, the Food and Drug Administration authorized both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 shots for the nearly 20 million U.S. children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years. The widely anticipated decision follows a unanimous recommendation in favor of the shots by the FDA’s independent advisory panel.
1. “Kids arenít just littler adults”
As the delta variant raged across the country in the summer of 2021, parents of kids under age 12 were anxiously awaiting the availability of a safe and effective COVID-19 shot for that age group. The FDA’s authorization for ages 5 to 11 finally came in October 2021. But that still left the preschool and younger kids waiting for their own version of the vaccine.
2. So you get a shot, then what?
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned a lot of once-obscure biology terms such as mRNA, spike proteins and “waning antibodies” into household words. Yet for all the talk of vaccines and immunology, few people have a deep understanding of just what exactly happens once a vaccine is injected into the body.
When the body encounters the molecules in a COVID-19 vaccine – which mimics the SARS-CoV-2 virus – it activates an intricate and coordinated set of cells and processes. It’s a lot like an elaborate construction zone. Some of these cells alert the body to the invader and recruit helpers, flagging the invader with signals akin to “flashing neon yellow signs.”
3. Training the immune system
As clinical trials of COVID-19 shots for children under age 5 crawled along in early 2022, the omicron variant gained a firm foothold in the U.S. While serious cases of COVID-19 remain relatively rare in children, hospitalizations in kids under 5 increased dramatically due to the heightened transmissibility of omicron, highlighting the urgent need for a safe vaccine in that age group.
Debbie-Ann Shirley, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Virginia, wrote in March 2022 about the painstaking process of performing clinical trials sequentially for each descending age group.
4. The inevitable booster shot question
In the fall of 2021, a mounting body of data from adults and adolescents found that immunity from COVID-19 vaccines and infections was waning over time, suggesting that booster shots would be needed – especially in the face of omicron. The same trends proved true for the 5 to 11 age group, though vaccination continued to provide strong protection against severe COVID-19 that leads to hospitalization. So in May 2022, the CDC recommended a booster dose for 5- to 11-year-olds.
COVID-19 shots for infants and preschoolers are expected to follow a similar trajectory; Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots for kids under age 5 are intended to be a three-dose series. Moderna’s testing of the third dose is still underway.
5. Helping kids overcome fear of shots
While the wait for COVID-19 vaccines for young children has undoubtedly been excruciating for some parents, so might be their conversations with children who have serious anxiety over getting a shot.
Validate their feelings by telling them you know needles can be a bit scary, but then reassure them that they can handle it. Explain why they’re receiving vaccines and emphasize it is for their overall good.”
Amanda Mascarelli, The Conversation