The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Covid shots for young children are coming. That’s great news for everyone.

Elementary school students in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 19. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post)
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Younger children have been spared the worst of the pandemic. The numbers of hospitalizations and deaths have been extremely small. Many schools have managed to return to in-person learning without massive outbreaks. But children can be reservoirs of the virus, can transmit it, and have suffered social and mental stress during the tumult. A pediatric vaccine will help them and adults find safe harbor from the dangers of the coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are moving toward approval of an Emergency Use Authorization for the mRNA vaccines for children from 5 to 11 years old. The two doses will work in the same way as the adult vaccines, training the body’s immune system to recognize and neutralize the virus. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first being considered for children from 5 to 11 years old, showed a 90.7 percent efficacy against symptomatic covid-19 in a clinical trial, the company reported.

Many parents will have understandable doubts about giving the shots to their young children. Even those who got the vaccine for themselves may ask: Is this really necessary? Parents should surmount their reluctance, just as most do for measles with the MMR vaccine when children are very young.

While children have not seen the worst of the pandemic, they do get infected, and have been especially hard hit by the delta variant. According to the FDA,of all the coronavirus infections in the United States, 22.3 percent occurred among people younger than 18 years old, with 8.7 percent among those who were between 5 and 11 years old. In the United States, coronavirus cases in children 5 to 11 years now constitute 39 percent of those younger than 18 years old. The number of cases among those in the 5 to 11 year old range is now as high as among adolescents 12 to 15 years of age, who are eligible for the vaccine. Children generally experience milder illness, but they do not exist in isolation from adults. They can transmit the virus, including to parents, teachers and others around them. Those children who do get infected are also potentially at risk for complications later on.

Are the vaccines safe? Pfizer said its clinical trials showed a “favorable safety and tolerability profile.” In clinical trials there were the usual side effects, such as redness, soreness and fatigue. In a briefing paper, the FDA said that models show the risks of a rare heart condition, myocarditis, were outweighed by the benefits of the vaccine in most cases.

If the vaccine is approved for children, the Biden administration has prepared a distribution effort that will emphasize the role of family pediatricians, an essential element of success, both in providing advice to parents and a familiar environment for children. There’s a big potential payoff that’s not directly medical: a return to normalcy for parents and children who want to enjoy holidays with relatives, continue in-person classroom instruction, and begin to get back to the way things were.