Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration marked a milestone in the covid-19 pandemic on Tuesday, as they recommended authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Having millions more Americans eligible for vaccination could influence the trajectory of the pandemic and reduce community infection rates, though I believe the more significant outcome will be that young kids will finally be protected from illness, disability and death.

Data presented at the meeting refutes the pervasive and false narrative that young children are not affected by the coronavirus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 1.8 million children between 5 and 11 have been diagnosed with covid-19. Kids in this age range currently constitute more than 1 in 10 new infections. More than 8,600 children have been hospitalized, with 1 in 3 hospitalizations requiring intensive care. Tragically, 143 young children have died.

While many of the children suffering severe illness have underlying medical conditions such as obesity or asthma, nearly one-third of hospitalizations occurred among children who were otherwise healthy. Younger children appear to be most susceptible to multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a serious condition occurring several weeks after covid-19 infection that affects multiple organ systems and can cause long-lasting effects. Half of the more than 5,200 MIS-C cases to date have been in 5- to 13-year-olds. Sixty to 70 percent of MIS-C patients were admitted to intensive care, and 1 to 2 percent died. Two in 3 children afflicted with MIS-C report ongoing symptoms more than 60 days after diagnosis.

I’ve written previously about the fallacy of comparing the severity of covid-19 illness in children to adults. Just because adults tend to get far sicker than children doesn’t mean that covid-19 in kids is benign. Indeed, a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that, during August and September, covid-19 was the sixth-leading cause of death among children ages 5 to 15.

Imagine a disease that impacts only young children. Imagine that thousands of previously healthy kids have been afflicted, that more than 100 have died and that many more are living with long-term consequences. Wouldn’t developing a vaccine to protect our children from this disease be a top priority?

Pfizer’s vaccine appears to do exactly that. Its study of more than 2,250 children ages 5 to 11 found that a 10-microgram dose (compared with 30 micrograms that’s given to 12-year-olds and above) produces a strong antibody response, including against the delta variant. It is more than 90 percent effective in preventing disease. Side effects are similar to those in older age groups, with common symptoms being sore arm, fatigue and fever.

Importantly, the study found no cases of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. This does not mean that myocarditis won’t surface among a much larger group of children. As the FDA advisers reviewed in extensive detail, myocarditis is a known adverse reaction associated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and is most prevalent in young males under 30. Myocarditis cases associated with the vaccines tend to be mild and resolve on their own, with the majority having no long-term effects. Medical groups have resoundingly noted that the benefit of the vaccine far outweighs the risk of myocarditis in adolescents.

Extending inoculations to the younger age group has the added benefit of helping the community. Kids can and do transmit covid-19 in school and home settings, and getting millions of children vaccinated can help reduce the coronavirus’s overall burden. But the main reason to authorize vaccines for young kids is not an altruistic one of safeguarding other vulnerable people; it’s to protect the kids themselves. It’s to give parents peace of mind to return to the office and travel without the constant worry of bringing the coronavirus back to their kids. And it is to reduce missed school days, as current protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that vaccinated people do not need to quarantine if exposed to covid-19.

Moreover, inoculating younger children will give them the freedom that they have been missing. To reduce unnecessary risk, many parents have been putting extracurricular activities on hold. Once kids are vaccinated, sports and after-school activities can safely resume. Families who have exercised caution by stopping sleepovers and indoor birthday parties can bring these back knowing that the risk is now much lower. Activities with all vaccinated children can probably do away with masks, giving kids another layer of normalcy.

Our kids have suffered enough because of covid-19. Having the vaccine available for all school-aged children will safeguard their health and allow them to return to their pre-pandemic lives, and I hope the FDA and CDC will act expeditiously to make this happen.