After clinical trials, safety testing and a robust data review process, the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 is now available to American children ages 5-11.
The vaccine, which is one-third of the dose given to adults and children 12 and older, is 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic cases of the coronavirus.
Medical professionals are hoping that vaccines for most school-aged children will reduce school-based transmission. Nearly 300 positive cases in Montrose County School District have been confirmed since the start of the school year.
“Children in close proximity to each other in a classroom environment who often have asymptomatic disease are high-risk for transmitting infection to older, unhealthier household members,” said Eddie Medina, a family nurse practitioner at Cedar Point Health.
On Nov. 4, 531 people — 495 students and 36 staff members — were actively quarantining, according to the school district’s COVID dashboard. At least a handful of students are in quarantine at all of the district schools, but 23% of students at Northside Elementary and 18% of Pomona Elementary students are quarantining.
Since the start of the school year, school employees and fully vaccinated students have been able to opt out of mandatory quarantines for routine exposure.
Dr. Lindsay Meridith, a provider at Cedar Point Health, said that quarantining at home has been disruptive for many families and that some regretted delaying vaccination.
“I have found that families have been really struggling with quarantines and balancing their work/home responsibilities and their child’s education,” Meredith said. “I have also found that many families wished they had vaccinated their kids sooner.”
Meredith added that students have caught COVID at school and brought it home, which has caused “significant infections” in some higher-risk family members.
Although children are less susceptible to hospitalization and death than elderly patients, at least 791 kids have died of the disease in the U.S. Thousands have developed a severe inflammatory response that has led to hospitalizations.
“While this age group generally has very low risk of mortality associated with infection, there are definite public health benefits from vaccinating a population that is generally viewed as an important vector for airborne infection,” Medina said.
Demand for the pediatric vaccine will likely be an “initial rush,” said Dr. Greg Suchon, a provider at Pediatric Associates of Montrose.
“There’s a lot of pent up demand amongst the people who are really wanting to get the vaccine for their children, so those people are going to be very quick to get in line to get it,” Suchon said.
After the initial period though, demand could slip.
Since the rate of vaccination in Montrose County is lower than other counties in the state, Medina expected that the rate of pediatric vaccinations will parallel the overall numbers.
When discussing the vaccine with hesitant parents, Suchon said that he “meets people where they are” and gives parents as much information as possible about the advantages of the vaccine.
“There’s a primary benefit in that it will benefit your child and it will protect them from COVID, and then there’s that secondary benefit to the community at large,” Suchon said. “You will be less likely to be someone who is unknowingly spreading COVID because we know that a lot of children are minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic.”
Meredith added that the potential side effects from the vaccine are worth protection from the virus, which can cause serious long-term symptoms and death.
“The reality is, we are not deciding between the vaccine or nothing. We are deciding between the vaccine or the virus,” Meredith said. “The risks from the vaccine don’t come anywhere close to the risks from the virus, in terms of frequency of occurrence and severity of symptoms.”
Medina said that pediatric vaccines for other diseases have saved a multitude of children from premature deaths in the United States.
“Measles used to kill 16,000 children a year in this country — now it kills none. Polio killed and paralyzed over 5000 children a year during outbreak years — now it kills none,” Medina said.
“Even with mild disease, pediatric COVID infection results in school absence, missed work for parents, and spread of this infection to more vulnerable family members. Vaccination represents the most effective preventative strategy available to us in the medical community.”
Meredith said that the community needs to come together “to take care of each other” and acknowledge that the pandemic is a serious issue.
“It is disheartening to see reports of cases in many parts of the country going down while we, locally, are dealing with the highest numbers of COVID … we have ever seen,” Meredith said. “If more people in our community will get vaccinated and wear masks, we have a real shot at getting back to more of a normal life, especially for our children.”