WASHINGTON – Since the schools closed in March 2020, parents of school-aged children have lived with a sense of uncertainty on a daily basis. When would the schools reopen? When they did, would they stay open? Back in class, would the children be safe?
Then on Monday came the news that Pfizer’s vaccine is safe and effective for children aged 5 to 11. “Mom of an 11 year old here, and I could cry in relief” tweeted climate strategist Mary Anne Hitt. Randi Weingarten, leader of the powerful American Federation of Teachers, rented the announcement as “Great, good news”.
After a disastrous distance learning experience, educators agreed that the new school year should mark a return to normal before the pandemic. But as with so many other things, the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus scuttled those plans. While schools were opened this fall, reopening was difficult and barely free from interruptions. According to the Burbio data site, which tracks school reopens, 2,000 schools across the country have already temporarily closed due to a coronavirus outbreak.
With the onset of cold weather, some fear that this trend may be exacerbated, forcing children to return to school from their homes, where studies have consistently shown that they learn less and suffer the psychological consequences of isolation. .
So the Pfizer Monday news offered something that had been lacking for several months: hope, especially for parents and children fearing the prospect of more Zoom schools. Pfizer has announced that clinical trials in children aged 5 to 11 have shown a strong antibody response – and virtually no side effects.
“This is the news that many, many parents have been waiting for,” said Dr. Leana Wen, professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University and former Baltimore health commissioner. “I hope Pfizer will submit an application for clearance soon and that the FDA will conduct such a quick and efficient review. “
Everything indicates that Pfizer is indeed rushing to submit an emergency use authorization request to the Food and Drug Administration. But that doesn’t mean the kids are rolling up their sleeves tomorrow. The recent controversy over adult booster shots is a reminder that following the science – as the Biden administration has repeatedly pledged to do – can be a difficult exercise: it takes patience to wait for scientists to do their bit. job.
The White House had prepared to begin giving boosters to recipients of two-dose mRNA vaccines this week. But last Friday’s controversial FDA advisory group meeting ended with a narrow recommendation that only people over the age of 65 or at high risk receive booster shots. The panel only considered the Pfizer vaccine; the other mRNA vaccine, manufactured by Moderna, does not yet have full government approval.
A similar dynamic could play out with regard to childhood immunization. Earlier this month, the FDA released a statement anticipating Pfizer’s next announcement, acknowledging that parents are “anxious about the pandemic and protecting their children” but asking for patience with the regulatory process. “It is important for the public to recognize that as young children grow and develop further, it is essential that extensive and robust clinical trials of adequate size be conducted to assess the safety and immune response to a COVID vaccine.” 19 in this population, ”says the FDA statement.
There is little dispute that the vaccine works, even though children were given a much lower dose than adults. The biggest concern for regulators is myocarditis, a relatively rare heart disease that tends to affect younger men. Pfizer did not release data from its clinical trials on Monday; a company statement made no mention of adverse effects among participants, but regulators will carefully review the data before drawing a conclusion.
The review will take place as outdoor activities become increasingly difficult in the northern states, including several that have yet to experience an increase in the delta. There are reports that approval could take place before the end of October, offering American kids a Halloween treat.
FDA officials made it clear during the recall debate that they would not be intimidated into going faster, not even by the White House. “I have no information to share on the schedule at this time,” FDA spokeswoman Abigail Capobianco told Yahoo News in response to a request whether Pfizer’s announcement would speed up the process. ‘approval.
“It depends a lot on the FDA, which is why I am not saying it will happen by Halloween,” Dr. Kavita Patel, former political aide in the Obama administration who is now a member of the Brookings, told Yahoo News. Institution. “Plus, it’s not as if all children will be immunized overnight. Getting the flu shot takes months.
Others say that while the news is good, it masks a bigger truth: Children have never been at high risk for contracting COVID-19 in the first place. Although child hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks, age remains closely related to the incidence and severity of the disease.
“It is great that we are getting closer to a safe and effective vaccination regimen for young children, but I hope this does not cause people to lose sight of the already close to zero risk posed to children by the virus.” said Rory Cooper, a northern Virginia political consultant who became an advocate for reopening schools last year.
While schools are already enforcing a slew of vaccinations, it’s unclear whether they will do so with the coronavirus vaccine when it comes to the younger cohort, especially as approval will be granted as part an emergency use authorization. That will leave the 5-11 year old immunization to parents, which in turn could lead to another round of vaccine culture wars.
If childhood COVID vaccinations become politicized – and there’s good reason to believe they will be, given the fury over mask warrants in schools – childhood immunization rates could end up being well below those of adults, 77% of whom received at least one draw. According to the latest Yahoo News / YouGov poll, 56% of parents of children under the age of 18 say their children have either already been vaccinated (18%) or that they plan to have them vaccinated when the injections are fully approved. (38%). The rest say they will not get their children vaccinated (23%) or that they are not sure (21%).
“I think people will see the health benefits as low (which it is) and there are a lot of concerns about myocarditis,” Brown University economist Emily Oster wrote in an email to Yahoo News. . “Most of the hesitations I see are really just the low advantage thing. I think if that means the kids won’t have to be quarantined it will help a lot. “
Quarantine rules could be relaxed in places where elementary and high school students are vaccinated, but much of what schools will look like with the vaccination remains unclear. The vaccine itself, however, will soon become a reality.
“We must applaud another tool in the battle against COVID,” said another supporter of reopening schools, educator Karen Vaites. “Obviously, many families will feel more comfortable returning to their normal activities with their vaccinated children aged 5 to 11. “
With reporting by Andrew Romano.
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