How will the COVID-19 vaccine work for children ages 5-11? Expert answers some commonly asked questions

As the FDA is expected to soon authorize COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11, University Health has been at the forefront of providing care and prevention throughout this pandemic, including almost half a million vaccines to eligible people.

As the FDA is expected to soon authorize COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11, Dr. Mandie Svatek, a pediatric hospitalist with University Health, provides some insight.

1) Why is it taking so long to authorize these vaccines for this age group?

“When a few cases of myocarditis or heart inflammation popped up during early vaccination efforts, the FDA slowed the process to examine these closely. It has been determined that they are very few in number - in fact, fewer cases and less serious than myocarditis in children who have COVID,” Svatek said.

“For kids 5-11, what the CDC and the FDA had to look at was assuring that we didn’t have further adverse vaccine events associated with administering the vaccines before they gave that approval. And because they had this associated myocarditis, they had to look at that further and get reassurance and look at the current dosing they were administering for the younger kids to assure that they weren’t seeing other side effects or further effects associated with myocarditis. They were looking at late summer perhaps, trying to initiate this vaccine. But because of the cases of myocarditis, it was important to gather more data,” Svatek continued.

“The more data you gather, the more you can be reassured that this is a very extremely low number of cases. In fact, it’s much lower than the number of individuals that have COVID-associated myocarditis or pericarditis, and so having those numbers to assure that we weren’t getting an increased number of cases with younger children associated with this is reassuring. So that’s where the hope is, that by October they can give us that answer for that EUA,” Svatek said.

2) If kids don’t get as sick as adults with COVID, why should they be vaccinated?

“That’s a question that I think we still need to understand in time,” Svatek said. “When COVID-19 first came about, we were finding that less than 1% of our children were being hospitalized for COVID. But as COVID has mutated over time into different variants, we are seeing that more children are being hospitalized. Since the delta variant came in, I’ve had more children in the hospital, and my colleagues have had more children in the hospital than we have seen over the past year and a half with COVID pneumonia. So we don’t know, necessarily, that it’s going to continue to only be an adult severe disease process associated with COVID. This can traverse to our younger population. We even worry about our infant population being really adversely affected by COVID.”

3) What is the best way to explain the COVID vaccine to children, especially if they’ve heard a lot of negative talk?

“We start with simply talking about vaccines and what vaccines do, and how they can protect from infection,” Svatek said. “Then we can focus on things like the flu vaccine, which we have to receive on a yearly basis, and that’s something that each year they look for the appropriate strain and that vaccine changes each year. This is a new vaccine, but this vaccine has provided the immune support to protect individuals from dying from COVID. And if we can let them know to give that support, that we are giving them something that has protected our adult population and has protected family members that care for them, then it’s important for them to understand that this is something that can protect them, as well.”

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