Eanyone in the US 6 months or older is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved the injections in June for very young children, from 6 months to 5 years old. They are the last demographic age group in the US to be eligible to be vaccinated during the pandemic.
Despite the green light from the regulations, many parents of young children are questioning whether it is still necessary to have their children vaccinated at this time of the pandemic, as infections have become so common and the virus generally affects most children. relatively mild symptoms.
But while studies following children over longer periods of time are underway, current evidence points to more benefits than risks of the vaccines for the little ones. Below are some common parental concerns, along with the latest expert consensus on what the science shows so far.
hospital admissions and the number of deaths of the youngest children is increasing
COVID-19 usually causes milder illness in children than in adults. But Omicron has raised the stakes in this population.
Data from CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker shows that during the peak of the first Omicron wave, in January to February 2022, hospitalizations for infants and toddlers under age 4 were more than four times higher than for children age 5. up to 17 years. Some of that, public health experts say, can be attributed to the fact that the younger children were not yet eligible to be vaccinated, while the older children did. The numbers strongly suggest that children of all ages who are unvaccinated and get COVID-19 could become severe enough to be hospitalized.
Field data shows that vaccination against COVID-19 is safe for children
Some parents are concerned that the mRNA vaccines have not been tested in children long enough. But the research submitted to the FDA by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, the two companies that have received pediatric approval for COVID-19 vaccines, is pretty thorough. Moderna’s research includes nearly 1,600 children aged 6 months to 5 years, while at Pfizer-BioNTech more than 4,500 children are aged 6 months to 4 years; some of those children served as controls and received placebo injections, while others received the actual vaccine doses.
In both cases, the companies followed the children in the studies for about two months after they received the second of their primary series of two-dose vaccines. And in both cases, the frequencies of side effects were similar to those seen for older children and adults, including from real-world data collected from hundreds of millions of adolescents and adults already vaccinated with the injections.
None of the young children vaccinated in either company’s studies developed serious side effects. The most worrisome side effect documented in older children, mostly adolescents, involves inflammation of the heart tissue; it is extremely rare, even in that age group, and so far has not been observed at all in younger vaccinated children.
The CDC system for monitoring side effects and responses to vaccines will continue to search data to pick up signs of an increase in known side effects or reports of new ones. And the vaccine manufacturers will also continue to study the safety and effectiveness of their injections in young children.
Injections for children are probably about as effective against Omicron as vaccines for adults
In 2020, the mRNA vaccines generated astonishing efficacy rates of over 90%. But the efficacy rates for the youngest children’s shots aren’t that impressive. Why not? When the shots were first developed, another version of SARS-CoV-2 was circulating. Both vaccines were developed to target the original virus strain, which is no longer responsible for most cases of COVID-19. That strain has been replaced by a series of variants, the latest of which are the sub-variants of Omicron and Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5, which now account for half of infections in the U.S.
In Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s studies in younger children, participants received the same version of the vaccine — targeting the original virus — in smaller doses. But because these studies were more recent, during the first wave of Omicron last winter, the efficacy of the vaccines in this age group, as measured by antibodies that can neutralize the virus, reflects immunity to Omicron, not the original strain, which is responsible. is for the drop. However, the antibodies tested continue to protect against severe COVID-19 disease and are only part of the immune response generated by the vaccines.
While they can’t completely stop the infection, vaccines reduce the risk of poor outcomes for children
People who have been vaccinated and boosted can (and still get) COVID-19. But that’s no reason not to shoot. No vaccine, including those targeting childhood diseases such as measles, is 100% effective. Vaccines are primarily intended to prevent people from becoming seriously ill from a particular disease, not to prevent them from becoming infected in the first place.
The infections that occur in vaccinated adults are due to the Omicron variant and its subvariants. Adults are immunized with vaccines that targeted the parent virus; the strength of that immunity has waned as new variants have emerged, especially against Omicron.
That said, the original vaccines are still effective at generating a broad immune response to counteract the worst effects of all variants of SARS-CoV-2, from Alpha to Omicron. In other words, even if vaccinated adults do become infected, the shots still largely protect them from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 and being hospitalized.
Adults who have been vaccinated and boosted have generally reported milder symptoms and milder illness than people who have not been vaccinated. Experts say the same seems to be true for children.
Getting Omicron Is Safer When Young Children Are Vaccinated
Studies have documented Lung COVID, a constellation of persistent symptoms involving the brain, heart and other body systems that may represent lasting health effects from infection, but the true extent of Lung COVID remains unknown. The data on Lung COVID is even less complete for children, so most public health experts believe the preventive benefits of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines outweigh the potential risks. In adults, data shows that getting vaccinated reduces the risk of lung COVID. Studies are beginning to show that people who become infected after being vaccinated also experience milder symptoms and less severe illness compared to unvaccinated people who become infected.
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