UAB pediatrician urges parents to vaccinate children 5 to 11 once available

One of UAB’s top pediatricians is encouraging parents to vaccinate their children ages 5 to 11 if Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for the younger children is approved next week as expected.

Kimberlin, co-director of UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, said the FDA will almost certainly follow the recommendation of its advisory committee, which voted 17-0 Tuesday to recommend the vaccine.

“They voted that the benefits of the COVID vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds outweighed the risks,” Kimberlin said. “I expect that in the next few days we will have full FDA approval… and I think the CDC will have its own outside advisory committee next Tuesday that will also look at this data and make a recommendation on whether or not the vaccine is safe or not.” should not be used. So FDA says it can be used, CDC says how it should be used.

While COVID-19 has not affected children to the same degree or severity as older adults, Kimberlin said the risk should still be considered.

“Over the course of this pandemic, more than 500 children have died from COVID disease,” Kimberlin said. “Currently, COVID is the eighth leading cause of death for 5- to 11-year-olds. This is something that although parents may say ‘I think it’s unlikely this will happen to my child’ – you know, they’re right, it’s unlikely; but it’s not impossible.”

Kimberlin likened it to tying up a child before taking a road trip.

“This is a somewhat imperfect analogy, but if you’re going to drive from (Birmingham) to Huntsville today and you have a kid in the back seat, are you going to strap them in?” said Kimberlin. “I think the answer is yes and the reason you do it is because, in the very unlikely situation that you get into a car accident, that will protect them and potentially save their lives.”

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Waiting for the vaccine, Kimberlin said, would be like waiting until halfway through the trip to fasten the child.

“Why? All you’ve done in that situation is endanger the child during the first half of the journey,” Kimberlin said. “Why wait? The chance of damage is definitely there and you don’t take advantage of the chance of advantage.”

Although children have a high survival rate from COVID-19, Kimberlin pointed out that doctors still don’t know anything about the possible long-term effects of the disease.

As a bonus, vaccinating children could serve to further suppress the spread of the disease, Kimberlin said.

“It also has the added benefit of protecting the people around that 5- to 11-year-old,” Kimberlin said. “The elderly grandparent who is at risk of getting COVID and in old age is at risk of developing a more serious illness and maybe even dying from it. Or someone in church as a child gives it to another child in church and the second child brings it back and infects their grandma or grandpa. This trickle-down effect when we talk about a highly contagious disease… we all need to protect ourselves and in doing so, we protect others.”

Kimberlin said the sample size of the FDA study wasn’t large enough to actually detect cases of myocarditis, but even assuming the case of myocarditis was similar to other groups, the benefits would still outweigh the risks.

“What the committee looked at yesterday was what about the very rare side effects that we see in older adolescents and young adults, what if we assumed the same could happen in these younger children?” said Kimberlin. “What would that look like in terms of the potential risks and how would it compare to the potential benefits? And what they found in six different models is that the frequency and severity of myocarditis is much less than the benefit of using of the vaccine.”

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Kimberlin also rejected the potential for the vaccine to affect puberty or fertility, stating that there is no evidence of that.

While Kimberlin admitted Alabama is “in a good place right now” as new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined since peaking in August and September, he warned against becoming complacent.

“We’ve been in this position before and every time we think ‘Thank God that’s over’. It’s not over yet, the next wave is coming,” Kimberlin said. “is going to happen, but the time to protect yourself is now, not when the tsunami crashes on the beach. Now is the real time to do it. Buckle up before the car pulls out of the garage.”

Pfizer’s doses for children ages 5 to 11 are one-third of what adults get, the company said, and in clinical trials it was found to be 90 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection in those children.

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