Parents soon facing decision time on pediatric vaccination

Falling numbers among factors that could affect acceptance

NATICK, Mass. — It is a decision no parent waiting in the pick-up line outside the Bennett-Hemenway Elementary School probably ever imagined they would have to make: Do I allow my young child to get an unapproved drug to prevent an illness unlikely to make them very sick?

The drug, of course, is Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. Next week, an FDA Advisory Committee will consider whether to recommend Emergency Use Authorization for a pediatric version of the injection.

“We’re a little worried about side effects,” said a mother of three. “But I think the science proves it’s something that we need to do, at least for my kids.”

“It was fine for me, fine for people in my family,” said a father of two. “Obviously no one’s body’s the same. So, we’ll have to see what happens. But I think overall it’s okay.”

The Biden administration is banking on millions of families feeling the same way. It’s stockpiled enough pediatric doses to immunize all 28 million Americans ages 5 to 11, even though surveys indicate only about half that number are leaning towards vaccination.

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The White House also laid out a logistical plan to distribute the vaccine to clinics, schools and pediatric offices, basically to be ready to go once the FDA grants Pfizer approval for emergency use.

But the pediatric version of the vaccine is nearing market at a time when pediatric cases of COVID, nationwide – while still relatively high – are plummeting. After reaching a high the week of September 2, at a little more than 250,000 infections, weekly cases have now fallen to almost half that, around 130,000.

Some doctors fear the declining numbers could lull parents into thinking COVID vaccination for kids is unnecessary, especially when you consider the low hospitalization and mortality rates associated with kids. Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported 0.8% of pediatric COVID cases required hospital admission. That’s a 40% drop from a year ago. And the mortality rate has held steady at a very small .01%.

But Dr. Katrina Byrd, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, said the small numbers hide a larger problem: a COVID complication known as MIS-C. That’s why she’s urging parents to get their kids vaccinated.

“I’ve seen this virus really hit kids hard,” Byrd said. “Sometimes kids will get COVID -19 and either have no symptoms or maybe just a little cough and be sick for a day or so. And then come back up to eight weeks later severely sick in the hospital.”

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And the problem, Byrd said, is that no one can predict which kids will come down with serious illness either after the fact or during the primary infection.

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