Comer Children's

Comer Children's Hospital, 5721 S. Maryland Ave.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Protection have cleared Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for children under the age of 5. Supplies are coming to local health care providers from the Chicago Department of Public Health and the federal government.

Older babies, toddlers and young children are now eligible, though Illinois pharmacists can only vaccinate children aged 3 and older. Children older than 6 months and younger than 3 will have to go to a health care provider or a public health clinic to get vaccinated.

"We are super excited that the FDA and the (CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) both green-lighted the vaccine," said Dr. Allison Bartlett, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital. The hospital will begin scheduling appointments once its vaccines arrive.

Bartlett noted that the newly eligible toddlers and young children are in an age group that is routinely in contact with health care providers for welfare checks and other immunizations. She thinks that pediatricians and family health care providers are going to be called upon to include the COVID-19 vaccines alongside other vaccines for young children.

"We're also looking into partnerships with Chicago Public Schools and other community events at child care centers," she said. "We can bring the vaccine more out into the community, but this is a group that's routinely seeing their health care providers. And especially for parents who have questions or concerns, going to your trusted information source is the right thing to do."

Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Seo said her department is receiving the vaccines for young children and allocating them to health care providers all over the city. More than 200 providers have told the CDPH that they will vaccinate children younger than 5. The federal government is also delivering directly to pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS through a partnership.

"We're also looking into partnerships with Chicago Public Schools and other community events at child care centers," she said. "We can bring the vaccine more out into the community, but this is a group that's routinely seeing their health care providers. And especially for parents who have questions or concerns, going to your trusted information source is the right thing to do."

Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Seo said her department is receiving the vaccines for young children and allocating them to health care providers all over the city. More than 200 providers have told the CDPH that they will vaccinate children younger than 5. The federal government is also delivering directly to pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS through a partnership. Seo said Chicago children older than 6 months and younger than 3 will have to go to a health care provider or a public health clinic to get vaccinated.

CDPH is hosting vaccination clinics with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for young children in addition to Pfizer vaccines and booster doses for everyone else from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 25, and Saturday, July 23, at Kennedy King College, 6301 S. Halsted St., among other City Colleges.

Pfizer's vaccine for children aged 6 months through 4 years old is given in three doses, with three weeks between the first two doses and the third at least two months after the second. Moderna's, for children aged 6 months through 5 years old, is given in two doses, with four weeks between them.

Moderna's shots are one-quarter the dose of the ones for adults, and Pfizer's are one-tenth the size of adults'. The Associated Press reports that the two Moderna shots appear strong enough to prevent severe illness, around 40% to 50% effective at preventing mild infections, and that the company expects to eventually offer a booster.

The third Pfizer dose for young children is not a booster. The AP reports that Pfizer and BioNTech found that two shots did not provide enough protection in testing, thus the third was added.

The FDA has also found that the adult-sized Moderna vaccine, currently only CDC-approved for people aged 18 and older, is OK for children aged 6 to 17. Currently, only Pfizer's vaccine is cleared for children in that age group.

Seo said parents should note that FDA and CDC experts found both vaccines to be safe and effective after closely reviewing the data.

"These are two different vaccines with two different vaccine schedules," she said. "What we want our parents to know is that both vaccines are good options. They are both safe. They are both effective. Talk to your health care provider. See which vaccine they are offering. But at the end of the day, take the vaccine that is easiest and most convenient for you to get. Both are good options here, so I think it really does come down to individual family choice."

Bartlett said she is, however, prepared to be disappointed by demand. "We've definitely seen that for the 5- through 11-year-old group: the demand was lower than for the older children," she said. "I know there are a lot of parents who are cautious about wanting to get this. Although that said, all the pediatrician parents I know who have children in this age range are calling, texting and beating down the doors, excited to get their kids vaccinated."

Seo said recent CDC survey data found that only around 30% of families plan to get their newly eligible children vaccinated. The CDPH and health care partners have been communicating the safety, importance and efficacy of the vaccines for 18 months; Seo noted that pediatricians have been doing vaccine communication since before the pandemic started and will continue having conversations about why parents should vaccinate their young children against COVID-19.

COVID-19 infections are more mild in young children than in older people, but Bartlett noted that not every child has a mild infection. Several hundred children in the United States have died from COVID-19, but there is now a tool that can help prevent that kind of outcome.

"The way we look at it as pediatricians is one preventable death of a child is one is one too many," Bartlett said. "Every person who is protected is one fewer person who is potentially at risk of needing to use our health care system, which is already overburdened. And it will allow parents an extra sense of comfort and relief, that there's extra protection for their children who can then go about out in the world, go see their higher-risk grandparents and take one step back into whatever this 'new normal life' looks like."

Bartlett also noted that we do not know the truly long-term effects of COVID-19, both in terms of Long COVID and in terms of the disease's effects on the cardiovascular system. "Any potential long-term consequences, when they start with a 3-year-old, are there for a very long time," she said. "I think the unknown long-term impacts are definitely something that I want to protect my children against."

Seo also noted that vaccinated young children will not need to be quarantined if they come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 in certain settings, thereby causing fewer educational disruptions for kids and fewer work disruptions for adults.

Looking ahead, both Bartlett and Seo expect boosters to continue to be a way to combat COVID-19. Everyone 5 years old and older can get a booster after completing their primary COVID-19 vaccine series; the CDC recommends it, alongside a second booster for people 50 years old and older and those 12 and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.

Some number of booster-eligible people are declining to get the shots, however, figuring that they will wait for the COVID-19 variant-calibrated boosters that Pfizer and Moderna are reportedly developing to be released instead.

Both doctors suggest getting any booster one is eligible for as soon as possible.

"My feeling for the moment is that we don't know that there are any potential downsides to getting boosters," Bartlett said. "And especially with the high prevalence of COVID right now, I think boosting if you are able is great rather than holding out for the strain-specific vaccine — just in case 'it's supposed to be here in September, which turns to October, which turns to November,' and you are losing the ability to be fully protected at that time.

"Someday we may get into an annual rhythm like we are with influenza and needing annual boosters, but I think we're not quite there yet. So any extra protection you can get for yourself I think is recommended."`

Said Seo, "even though the newer variants seem to be 'smarter'; and can escape immunity, we know that if you're vaccinated your risk still is significantly lower for hospitalization. We know that immunity wanes over time, whether it's from infection or vaccination, so it's really important to get protected now, to get protected for the summer. Our numbers have been looking better in the city, but we need to be prepared for the next surge when it comes, if it comes."

CDPH expects that Chicago's huge winter omicron wave is why the city had, as Seo said, "an OK spring." But "natural immunity" wanes, and newer variants can expect immunity from prior infection. That said, she said data from previously infected Chicagoans with COVID-19, and particularly vaccinated Chicagoans who have been reinfected with COVID-19, shows the symptoms to be generally mild.

"While no vaccine is 100% and it's possible to get infected after vaccination, the good news is that we have seen real-world data that your risk of hospitalization and death, having severe symptoms from COVID, has been much lower," said Seo. "Still lots to learn there. We want as many people to get vaccinated as possible, just to reduce the number of infections and not give this virus more opportunity to mutate, but it's what viruses do. They mutate. But take the protection that you have now, and that's the vaccine that you have available now."

For more information about Covid-19 vaccines for young children, visit the city’s website at chicago.gov/Under5Vax

 

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