Should parents finally celebrate that there may be a vaccine for young children?

To help answer these questions, I spoke with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management in the School of Public Health at George Washington University’s Milken Institute. She is also the author of Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health and a mother of two children under the age of 5.

dr Leana Wen: The key takeaway from Moderna’s results is that the vaccine’s effectiveness in young children appears to be similar to its effectiveness in older age groups. The vaccine is 51% effective in preventing symptomatic infection in children 6 months to less than 2 years of age and 37% effective in preventing symptoms in children 2 to 5 years of age.

These numbers may seem low, but remember that the vaccines we have are less effective against the Omicron variant than previous variants. The effectiveness of the vaccine can be boosted with a booster dose, which is now recommended for everyone aged 12 and over – and those aged 50 and over can have two booster doses.

In addition, Moderna found that there was a robust antibody response in young children comparable to that in older individuals. The dose tested in this youngest age group is 25 micrograms. Two doses of this 25 microgram vaccine elicited an immune response similar to two doses of the standard 100 microgram vaccine in young adults aged 18 to 25.

All in all, I think Moderna’s study results are promising. The FDA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have very thorough and thorough review procedures. If the FDA approves the vaccine for younger children and then the CDC recommends the vaccine, I will be very happy that my young children will be vaccinated.

CNN: How quickly do you think families can get their young children vaccinated?

Whom: In the past, the FDA has reviewed applications within weeks of manufacturers filing, and the CDC met about a week after the FDA. Based on that precedent, I would estimate that the vaccine for young children could be available by the end of May.

All of this, of course, depends on what the FDA and CDC decide. I really hope they move quickly – and carefully.

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CNN: Where can parents get their young children vaccinated?

Whom: I advise parents to contact their pediatrician’s office first. They have the most up-to-date information on vaccine availability. Many families are used to getting all their children’s vaccinations from their pediatrician, so I recommend checking that out first.

Local health departments may also have vaccination campaigns or mass vaccination sites. There are some pharmacies that will also vaccinate young children, but be sure to check with your local pharmacy. Many of them have age limits and are not designed to vaccinate young children.

CNN: What would you say to parents who are unsure about vaccinating their children because children do not typically get as sick as adults from Covid-19 and especially because Omicron causes less serious illnesses?

Whom: It’s true that Covid-19 tends to cause less severe illness in children than in adults, and that Omicron is also less severe compared to some previous variants. However, CDC figures show that 572 children under the age of 4 were hospitalized during the Omicron wave in the United States. I think many parents would do a lot to prevent our children from getting seriously ill and if a vaccine is safe and offers additional protection we want our children to have it.
Vaccination also helps reduce the risk of a rare but fairly serious complication called childhood multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). According to the CDC, 95% of children ages 5 to 11 with MIS-C are unvaccinated. It seems likely that vaccination also reduces MIS-C and other longer-term effects in children under 5 years of age.
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CNN: What about the Pfizer vaccine? Should parents wait?

Whom: Previously, Pfizer-BioNTech announced that its vaccine for children under 5 years of age was not showing sufficient efficacy with two doses and is testing a third dose. These results should be published shortly. I hope the FDA and CDC review this data quickly as well, but if the Moderna two-dose vaccine were approved first, I wouldn’t delay vaccinating my children to await Pfizer’s data.

CNN: What if a child was already infected with the Omicron variant? Should they still get vaccinated?

Whom: This will be a question that the FDA and CDC will discuss. We know that prior infection confers some level of immunity, although that immunity wanes over time and is boosted by vaccination.

CNN: What can parents and carers do to protect their under-5s in the meantime?

Whom: Many families want to continue to be careful with their children who are too young to be vaccinated. There are some things they can continue to do, including surrounding their children with others who are vaccinated and refreshed and therefore less likely to be infected with Covid-19 themselves.

Children who can mask should do so in crowded indoor spaces, as should their parents and caregivers. And being outdoors remains a huge safeguard, so trying to host play dates and sports outside rather than indoors will also help reduce the risk of infection.

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