Health experts are encouraging parents to register their 5 to 11 year-old children for the Covid-19 vaccine.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved on Friday the emergency use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for children aged 5 to 11.
This “gives the green light for countries to administer it for kids,” a Qatar-based health official said on Qatar TV on Monday.
Dr. Laith Abu-Raddad, Professor of Healthcare Policy and Research at Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar, Cornell University, stressed that this will allow Qatar to expand its national vaccination campaign by protecting children as well as the education system from the novel coronavirus.
“The education system was the most affected by this pandemic so this decision will help the society as a whole.”
While the news has sparked concern over the risk of the vaccine on younger children, health authorities confirmed shots that will be administered to this age group will be of “a smaller dose.”
As per the new decision, children below 11 years will receive one-third of the adult dose, with two shots given three weeks apart.
“As a mother and a physician, I know that parents, caregivers, school staff and children have been waiting for today’s authorisation. Vaccinating younger children against Covid-19 will bring us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement announcing the approval.
“Our comprehensive and rigorous evaluation of the data pertaining to the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness should help assure parents and guardians that this vaccine meets our high standards.”
Addressing concerns over the safety of the vaccine, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said “we are confident in the safety, effectiveness and manufacturing data behind this authorisation.”
Dr. Marks said his team provided documents ahead of the announcement supporting the decision and further information detailing the committee’s evaluation of the data will be shared soon.
“We hope this information helps build [the] confidence of parents who are deciding whether to have their children vaccinated,” he added.
In addition, infectious disease experts welcomed the decision.
“It’s an incredibly important tool in the return to normalcy,” Dr. Larry Corey, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and a leader of the Covid-19 Prevention Network, told the New York Times.
“To be able to know that your child is protected and not going to get severely ill by going to school is an incredible psychological relief.”
Earlier, the FDA’s vaccine advisory panel voted to give the approval. The voting was almost unanimous with 17-0, and one abstention.
“This is a much tougher one, I think, than we had expected coming into it,” panel member Dr. Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, said during the meeting, NBC News reported.
“The data show that the vaccine works and it’s pretty safe … [yet] we’re worried about a side effect that we can’t measure yet,” he said, referring to a heart condition known as myocarditis that was recorded in rare cases in some recipients of Covid-19 vaccines from the 5-11 age group.
However, another panel member questioned whether the vaccines are needed for children in the first place.
“It just seems to me that in some ways, we’re vaccinating children to protect the adults, and it should be the other way around,” committee member Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College in Tennessee, told NBC.
“I do believe that children at highest risk do need to be vaccinated. But vaccinating all of the children … that seems a bit … much for me.”
Panel member Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine researcher at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said: “It’s always nerve-racking, I think, when you’re asked to make a decision for millions of children based on studies of only a few thousand children.”
But he stressed that a paediatric infection with Covid-19 is a real threat.
“The question is, when do you know enough?” Offit added. “And I think we certainly know that there are many children between 5 and 11 years of age who are susceptible to this disease who could very well be sick and are hospitalised or die from it.”
Meanwhile, Panel member Dr. Amanda Cohn, chief medical officer at the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said “it is pretty clear to me that the benefits do outweigh the risk, when I hear about children who are being put in the ICU, who are having long-term outcomes after their Covid, and children are dying.”
A medical officer with the CDC said over 1.9 million children aged 5 to 11 have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic first started, and more than 8,400 have been hospitalised, NBC News reported.
Children hospitalised due to the virus are reportedly more likely to be admitted to intensive care and in most cases require ventilators – more than children hospitalised with flu, Dr. Fiona Havers added.
Infected kids are also at risk of developing a rare inflammatory condition called multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), Havers said.
Two doses of the Pfizer vaccine is almost 91% effective in preventing symptomatic illness in younger children with no unexpected side-effects, according to a study released last Friday by the FDA.
“Overall, it is very promising news that the FDA has decided to approve the vaccine, allowing parents to collectively breathe a sigh of relief. The bottom line is that they can now extend this much needed protection to their children and families as a whole,” said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
In May, Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) said kids as young as 12 can take the vaccine.
The decision came a week after the FDA approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s request for the emergency use of the Covid-19 vaccine on kids aged twelve and above