Covid vaccines for kids are coming soon — some families are counting the minutes

Parents walk their children on the first day of school, amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, at West Tampa Elementary School in Tampa, Florida, U.S., August 10, 2021.

Octavio Jones | Reuters

Florida parent Judi Hayes said she can’t wait to get her 10-year-old son, Will, back in the classroom. However, she’s holding out until he can get vaccinated.

“He’s sad. He misses his friends and his teachers and special Olympics tennis,” said Hayes, whose child has Down syndrome and has been doing virtual learning since the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020.

Hayes said she opted her son out of in-person learning because his Down syndrome puts him at a greater risk for complications from Covid-19. She and a handful of other parents are currently suing Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials over the governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools. Will’s 13-year-old brother is vaccinated and goes to class, albeit masked.

“He doesn’t really understand why his brother gets to go school and he doesn’t,” Hayes said. “That’s where the vaccine comes in. We will get him vaccinated the second it is possible and hopefully he’ll be able to get back to school, maybe in January.”

As the Biden administration begins assembling and shipping doses of Pfizer‘s and BioNTech‘s Covid vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 for immunizations as early as this week, some parents say they are preparing their kids for a return back to “normal” – in-person learning, sports and other extracurricular activities that were largely put on hold due to the pandemic.

Even though the daily number of Covid cases in the U.S. is falling, the virus still infects an average of more than 72,000 Americans per day, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Children are beginning to make up a greater share of new infections.

Kids ages 5 to 11 made up 10.6% of all reported Covid cases nationwide in the week ending Oct. 10 even though they represent about 8.7% of the U.S. population, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although kids are less likely than adults to suffer from severe disease, a small portion of them do. At least 5,217 kids have suffered from multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a rare but serious Covid-related complication.

Fully vaccinating 1 million kids ages 5 to 11 would prevent 58,000 Covid infections, 241 hospitalizations, 77 ICU stays and one death, according to a modeled scenario published by the Food and Drug Administration last week. Up to 106 kids would suffer from vaccine-induced myocarditis but most would recover, according to the agency.

A student attends an online class from home in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.

Eva Marie Uzcategui | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Children are generally infected less severely, but “they can be infected to the point that they suffer and are hospitalized and die,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee.

Offit joined his FDA committee colleagues last week in recommending Pfizer’s vaccine for young kids. “The benefit of vaccinating kids is clear,” he said.

The White House said it has procured enough doses to vaccinate all 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds in the U.S., and said it began the process Friday of moving 15 million doses from Pfizer’s freezers and facilities to distribution centers. The FDA authorized the doses on Friday, and a CDC panel is expected to issue a recommendation on the doses Tuesday. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky could sign off soon after.

The doses will include different directions and packaging to help medical providers avoid confusing the shots with the company’s doses for individuals over 12, officials said. The vaccine will be given to kids in smaller doses, a third the dosage for teens and adults.

States are already preparing. California health officials, for example, said Wednesday the state will have 4,000 sites ready to administer 1.2 million Covid shots to children 5 to 11 years old as soon as the vaccines receive clearance from federal regulators.

Katie O’Shaughnessey, an educator and parent of three who lives in Connecticut, said her 10-year-old daughter, Maeve, asked to get her shot for her birthday in a couple of weeks. She said they’re already trying to make an appointment with a local pediatrician.

Besides attending school and a few extracurricular activities, O’Shaughnessey said she and her wife haven’t allowed their daughter to do much else. While she acknowledged kids are generally at lower risk for severe Covid, they’re not taking any chances.

“For her, this is her freedom,” she said. “We have not allowed her to go to a restaurant. We haven’t gotten to see a show. A neighbor of ours was in a show at the theater, like a professional tour, and we wanted her to get to see her friend and we were like, ‘sorry, you can’t go.'”

O’Shaughnessey said she isn’t aware of any parents who say they are hesitant about getting their child vaccinated – although surveys show many parents in the U.S. are reluctant.

According to a survey published Thursday from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a third of parents in the U.S. say they will not get their children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated right away, and would wait and see how the vaccine rollout went. Parents’ main concerns with vaccinating their kids have to do with “potential unknown long-term effects and serious side effects of the vaccine,” Kaiser said.

Pfizer says its study, which included more than 3,000 children who received the vaccine, found the shots were well tolerated, with the most common side effects being mild and comparable to those seen in a trial of teens and adults ages 16 to 25. Common side effects for teens and adults include fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea, according to the CDC.

A boy rides a bicycle past a sign at Pershing School in Orlando advising that face masks are required for students through October 30, 2021.

Paul Hennessy | LightRocket | Getty Images

Still, federal regulators say they are monitoring for rare heart inflammation conditions, myocarditis and pericarditis, which have appeared in a very small number of young adults who received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. There were no cases of myocarditis in Pfizer’s trial for kids, but officials said the trial may have been too small to detect the rare heart condition.

Dr. Theodore Ruel, chief of pediatric infectious disease at the University of California, San Francisco, said parents’ concerns are understandable, especially since the mRNA vaccines are relatively new technology that many people are unfamiliar with.

“But at the end of the day, it’s kind of just the same as a normal vaccine, which is you get this protein from the virus and your body reacts to it,” he said. “I fear some of the innovation angle might have overly mystified it even though it works the same way other vaccines do.”

Lora Vail, a parent in Florida, said she isn’t hesitant about getting her 6-year-old son, Cooper, vaccinated. She and her husband are already fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, and she has an appointment to get a booster dose.

“We’re looking forward to when we can get our son vaccinated as well so he will be protected, and can protect others,” she said.

She said many children don’t really get seriously sick from Covid but it “doesn’t discount the children that do get sick, end up in the ICU and unfortunately die.”

“It makes me wonder, like, how many is too many,” she said. “For me, it’s one.”

South Carolina parent Shirley Grace said she’s looking forward to going on “adventures” again with her 6-year-old son, Michael, once he’s vaccinated. They used to go to weekly farmers markets, museums, the zoo and libraries before the pandemic hit.

“Even though I’ve only limited our outings to places with Covid precautions in place, having more protection for him gives his Dad and me a peace of mind we can have to go out and about again,” she said.