Babies as young as six months, toddlers and preschoolers are a step closer to being able to get coronavirus vaccines.
Food and Drug Administration advisers on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children under 5, the last age group to gain vaccine access.
At a press briefing Friday, Oregon Health Authority officials said health clinics should start receiving vaccine supplies on Monday.
“It’s extremely welcome news that we now have a vaccine that can protect children in the under-5 population,” said Dr. Bradley Olson, medical director of the Randall Children’s Pediatric Care at the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. “Trials were very efficacious in preventing symptomatic illness.”
Pfizer’s initial clinical trial suggests its vaccine is 80 percent effective in preventing children from getting the coronavirus, but it was based on just 10 cases of COVID in the group it studied. The Moderna vaccine trial, tested among more children during the most recent Omicron wave, suggests an efficacy rate of 50%.
Those are very early numbers that could change as more data becomes available, according to Dr. Corey Fish, chief medical officer with Brave Care. That’s a pediatric urgent care clinic that has offices in the Portland metro area and Austin, Texas.
“I think the important thing to keep in mind for parents is that vaccine effectiveness and prevention is only part of the equation,” Fish said. “The other part, and the part honestly I think is more important, is how effective it is at preventing hospitalizations or severe disease.”
More than 400 children under 5 years old in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, according to federal data, and thousands have been hospitalized.
Both Olson and Fish urged parents to contact their pediatricians to schedule an appointment for their young children as soon as the vaccines become available in the next couple of weeks.
“If I had a child in the 6-month to 4-year age window, I would be first in line to get them immunized, because the likelihood of them having a serious illness from a COVID-19 infection is much higher than any adverse reaction to the vaccine,” Olson said. “Oregon has given out more than 3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the state over the past a year and a half, and there has been very few adverse vaccine events.”
One concern among parents: The Food and Drug Administration has for the last several months been investigating rare incidents of teenage boys and young men showing heart inflammation after getting a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
Fish said those incidents were mild compared to the side effects that can come along with a coronavirus infection.
“The chance of getting heart inflammation from coronavirus is substantially higher than getting it from the vaccine, for one,” Fish said. “And for two, the people that were getting this kind of mild heart inflammation from the vaccine all got better and they all did fine with no long-standing effects.”
Fish added that heart inflammation resulting from the coronavirus could be severe and last for years or a lifetime, as can other side effects from the disease: “Total personality changes, seizure disorders, developmental delays; all kinds of very serious things,” Fish said.
Both Fish and Olson said they expect the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will have similar efficacy rates as more data becomes available, but there are other notable differences between the two. The Pfizer vaccine is for children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years, and the Moderna vaccine is for children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.
The Moderna vaccine comes in two doses that are about one-quarter as strong as an adult dose. The Pfizer vaccine comes in three doses that are about one-tenth the strength of an adult dose.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Dr. Bradley Olson’s name.