The Centers for Disease Control has approved the emergency use of a coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-11. The approval means that children can begin to be inoculated immediately.
Millions of parents have been asking the CDC to approve a vaccine for children, believing that their kids could finally resume in-person schooling and outdoor activities without worrying about lockdowns. They believe they could also get back to regular child care schedules and their work schedules would become more predictable.
Millions of other parents aren’t so sure. They are going to be questioning the emergency use of a vaccine on children where there isn’t an emergency for most. Yes, some children could benefit from the protection offered by a vaccine. For those who are immunocompromised — kids with cancer on chemotherapy, kids with transplanted organs — a vaccine is a godsend since they would be most at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.
And many parents would like the peace of mind that a vaccine would give their healthy child. But with the vaccine approval for children, there’s the possibility of a vaccine mandate. And for many parents, that’s a non-starter.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and the president were very careful to avoid the “M” word in their statements.
“We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated, and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” Walensky said in a statement. “As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist.”
Calling the vaccine “a turning point in our battle against COVID-19,” President Biden said deployment of a safe, effective vaccine for the younger children “will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others.”
The evidence that children can spread the coronavirus is still “evolving” according to the CDC. And there’s no evidence at all that the vaccine will “reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others.”
But the vaccine for children is a welcome option for parents who, for whatever reason, wish for their children to be inoculated.
The children’s vaccine is manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech. There have been few reported cases of serious side effects in adults, but children are a different story. The bottom line is: we just don’t know.
Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 2 million children ages 5 to 11 have been infected by the virus, resulting in 8,300 hospitalizations, including more than 2,300 cases of a complication known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, and 94 deaths, according to data presented Tuesday. Among children up to age 18, there have been 745 deaths.
Walensky acknowledged the chance of a child getting severe COVID-19 or developing long-term complications remains low. “But still,” she added, “the risk is too high and too devastating to our children — and far higher than for many other diseases for which we vaccinate children.”
Unless a child is at serious risk to develop a case of COVID that would require hospitalization, it may be a wise course to wait a few months and see how children’s immune systems are tolerating the vaccine. Until then, normal precautions should be sufficient to protect most children.