What pediatricians are prioritizing in Pfizer data about vaccinating kids ages 5 to 11

Kids now account for more than one in five new COVID cases, and the highly contagious delta variant has put more children in the hospital than at any other point in the pandemic. While there is no vaccine available yet for children below the age of 12, that may change soon thanks to new data from Pfizer. Stephanie Sy looks at the prospects of vaccinating children with pediatrician Dr. Rhea Boyd.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's dig into the promising news about a COVID vaccine for children. Kids now account for more than one in five new COVID cases. And the highly contagious Delta variant has put more children in the hospital than at any other point in the pandemic.

    While there is no vaccine available yet for children below the age of 12, that might be changing soon.

    Stephanie Sy looks at the prospects ahead and the larger problems right now.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Judy, Pfizer and BioNTech said their coronavirus vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in children aged 5 to 11.

    It's the result of a study of over 2,000 children who were administered two small doses 21 days apart. The doses are about a third of the amount given to adults. The data have yet to be peer-reviewed or published. But the companies say they plan to seek emergency use authorization from the FDA before the end of the month.

    Some experts say, if all goes smoothly, the vaccine could be authorized in a matter of weeks.

    Dr. Rhea Boyd is a pediatrician and public health advocate, and she joins me now.

    Dr. Boyd, thank you for joining the "NewsHour."

    So, what's your reaction to this news out of Pfizer/BioNTech that the vaccine is safe and effective for children 5 to 11? Are you relieved?

  • Dr. Rhea Boyd, Pediatrician:

    Yes.

    I think pediatricians across the country are we reassured to see this data. We have been eagerly anticipating the emergency use authorization of a vaccination for kids 5 to 11. And so to hear that their data is ready is so reassuring.

    But we are also going to wait until that data is publicly available, and is reviewed by the FDA, before making clear recommendations that kids 5 to 11 receive it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Yes.

    And with all those caveats, there has been talk that the FDA could approve the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 possibly by next month. Talk about the urgency of getting the shots into children's arms based on the rate of infections and hospitalizations we have been seeing across the country.

  • Dr. Rhea Boyd:

    With the Delta variant being more than twice as contagious as the earlier strains of COVID, it is so important that, as kids return to school, that we have a way to keep them safe.

    And one of the best ways for us to keep kids safe are to make sure that they are vaccinated, and that all of the caregivers, staff and teachers who work at their school are also vaccinated.

    So, having this vaccine receive emergency youth authorization right now cannot come a day too soon.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    I know you have been very involved in educating your community about the safety of vaccines.

    What are the risks of COVID infection weighed against the risks from the vaccine?

  • Dr. Rhea Boyd:

    So, again, because Pfizer hasn't publicly released the data, we only have what they said in their statement today.

    So, based on their statement, they have acknowledged that the safety profile for 5-to-11-year-olds is very similar to what they saw in teens and young adults, which means we can expect that kids, particularly after their second dose of the vaccination, will have some mild side effects, but that those side effects are thought to be mild and easily treatable with common over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or Advil.

    So things like fever or aches and pains or even pain at your injection site are things they also saw in kids. One thing pediatricians are specifically looking for is to make sure we don't see signs that there are more serious side effects for younger kids.

    And Pfizer in their statement today said that they did not see a single case of myocarditis, which is that heart inflammation that was seen in teenagers who received the Pfizer doses before. And so we want to make sure we don't see that in kids 5 to 11. And, so far, we haven't.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And we should say that the CDC says no children, even those that have gotten myocarditis, have died from it. Most of them have been addressed, their symptoms, by ibuprofen.

    Besides being a pediatrician, you also, Dr. Boyd, study the relationship between public health and structural racism. As we think about this new development, children getting the COVID vaccine, what are your hopes and what are your concerns?

  • Dr. Rhea Boyd:

    Yes.

    So what we have seen with the vaccine rollout across the country is that access to the COVID vaccines have not been evenly distributed. And so, if you look by racial and ethnic group, what we now see is that Black and Latinx communities are the least likely to have received a COVID vaccine.

    And so we, as a part of the public health community, and myself, as a pediatrician, are working really diligently to make sure we get the vaccine to the communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID.

    And so what that means, as we expect emergency use authorization to become available for kids 5 to 11, is that we have to continue to use opportunities to vaccinate children as opportunities to vaccinate families and communities. So every site that offers vaccination to kids, like pediatrician's offices, should also offer it to their parents, to their siblings and other caregivers who go to their visits with them to make sure that we're surrounding kids with caregivers who are also equally protected.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    How much of that lag in vaccination, especially among Black adults, and your concern that it might be among Black children, is due to access to vaccines vs. vaccine skepticism or even misinformation within communities?

    And, Dr. Boyd, how do you combat that as you look to persuade parents to vaccinate their children?

  • Dr. Rhea Boyd:

    This is such a critical question.

    We know that what the main barriers are to communities of color, particularly Black communities, receiving a COVID vaccine is absolutely access. For example, Kaiser Family Foundation did a poll of parents across the country. And what they found is that parents who go to high-income schools — so, parents who go to schools that have a wealthy student population — were more likely to have the vaccine recommended by their teacher.

    They were more likely to receive information about the COVID vaccines through their school, which made those students and families more likely to get vaccinated. So, all of our kids who are in low-income schools, which we know our nation's history of residential segregation, means communities of color and Black kids in particular are more likely to go to low-income schools, don't have equal access to information about the COVID vaccines.

    And so what we have been doing is making sure we go directly to our communities of color, particularly Black and Spanish-speaking communities, to share the credible information, to share the science, to say, these vaccines are safe, they are incredibly effective, and they're the best way our communities can protect ourselves from the devastation that COVID has raped.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Dr. Rhea Boyd, a lot of parents hopeful tonight that those vaccines are coming to their children.

    Thank you so much for joining the "NewsHour."

  • Dr. Rhea Boyd:

    Oh, of course. Thank you for having me.

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