Vaccine Cleared for Use in Children

First published in the Nov. 6 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

A pediatric vaccine to combat COVID-19 was cleared by U.S. health officials on Tuesday and is now available for children ages 5 to 11 throughout California.

The Food and Drug Administration signed off on emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention proceeded with its recommendation hours after the FDA’s announcement.

“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,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”

California allocated more than 1.2 million vaccines for newly eligible age groups and began administering shots at more than 4,000 locations. The shot for individuals 5 to 11 is a third of the dose given to those 12 and older.

The expansion of the nation’s inoculation campaign arrives weeks before Thanksgiving and might help stave off a winter surge in the virus.

“Vaccines are how we end this pandemic, and they’re how we keep our kids safe — it’s time to get our children protection they need from this deadly virus, especially as we head into winter season,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said there were no serious side effects detected during the clinical trials in which 3,100 of 4,600 young participants received the vaccine, which was 90.7% effective in preventing infection.

“As a mother and a physician, I know that parents, caregivers, school staff and children have been waiting for today’s authorization,” Woodcock said on Tuesday. “Vaccinating younger children against COVID-19 will bring us closer to a sense of normalcy.”

While some parents are relieved to hear the news, others worry that a vaccine mandate for children might be implemented by school districts.

The Burbank Unified School District previously explored the idea of a mandate but never moved forward with a decision after Newsom announced last month that the state will require students to be inoculated against COVID-19 following full approval from the FDA. U.S. health officials approved the Pfizer vaccine in August, but only for individuals 16 and older.

Though the mandate is not likely to go into effect for students 15 and younger until next year, Burbank stakeholders have gone before the Board of Education asking that officials do not force children to get the shot.

“I am pleading for you to please not vaccinate these kids,” Virginia Rios, a parent, said during a Burbank school board meeting on Thursday. “They don’t know what they’re up against. These are not long-term studies. I’m very scared [of] these mandates.”

Superintendent Matt Hill assured parents that the state requirement is currently not in effect for younger students.

“I just want to be clear that the FDA [authorization for children] is still emergency use and the state mandate is only when it’s [fully approved], and so there is no student mandate on vaccines,” he said. “Now we encourage all families to learn more about the vaccine and as appropriate for your family to get the vaccine.”

Board member Armond Aghakhanian empathized with Rios, saying he has concerns about vaccinating his 9-year-old son. He went on to encourage parents to seek reliable information.

“I think the key should be also making sure that our community is well informed,” he added. “The more we share the information, the better it is when it comes to making a decision that really protects our children. As I said before, the safety of our children and staff is our No. 1 priority.”

The BUSD will host a virtual town hall meeting on Monday, Nov. 8, featuring Dr. Janina Morrison, director of clinical and preventive services for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, to inform stakeholders about the COVID-19 vaccine for children. Parents and students can participate in the one-hour meeting via Zoom beginning at 6 p.m.

The district also plans two vaccine clinics for its youngest students. Parents can expect more information via email when it is finalized, Hill told the school board.