Local health experts reflect as COVID vaccine to be debated for 5-11 year-olds Tuesday

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – While most anyone in the United States over the age of 12 years has been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine for months, a regulatory advisory panel could decide to drop that age as low as 5, come Tuesday.

Pfizer-BioNTech revealed in late September 2021 that it believes a smaller dose of its vaccine is safe for children ages 5 to 11 years.

Local health experts told News Channel 11 they look forward to the upcoming advisory meeting that will either confirm or deny that finding.

There are several regulatory steps that must be completed before the Pfizer vaccine can be authorized for use on 5 to 11-year-olds.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) will meet on Tuesday, October 26. After that meeting, the FDA could authorize the Pfizer vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds, but it does not end there.

After that, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an advisory body to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will meet on November 2 and 3. Then, the CDC could adopt those guidelines, at which point health care providers could begin administering the vaccine to 5 to 11-year-olds.

Breanne Forbes Hubbard, Population Health Manager for the Mount Rogers Health District in Southwest Virginia said she could no longer wait for that approval.

“We are so anxious for that – I have tiny little arms that need shots in at home you know so we can’t wait,” she said.

She warned that there may be confusion among locals in the region regarding this proposed vaccine.

“It’s not like a brand new vaccine, it’s not a brand new technology, it’s still going to be that same Pfizer vaccine – mRNA formula – it’s just because it’s a third of a dose when they mix it with the diluent and draw it up into the vial, it’s just a little bit different. It is pretty technical but it’s just about like the volume of the additional liquid the diluent, the saline, you know that it gets pulled up,” Hubbard explained.

Doctors urge the region’s young children are at higher risk with the Delta variant.

“In our region that would be a very unique we obviously have very adverse social determinants of health that includes kids with pre-existing illnesses like asthma, other lung diseases, higher rates of obesity. So that makes these kids uniquely vulnerable to bad outcomes and COVID-19,” explained Dr. Amit Vashist, Ballad Health Chief Clinician.

“Not only that, these kids are going back home to their parents, to the grandparents, who carry all these chronic medical illnesses, at times, and put these parents as well as grandparents in a very vulnerable position to contract COVID-19 and get some very serious outcomes, unfortunately.”

If this emergency use authorization is approved in time, these school-age kids potentially having a more normal holiday season.

“The earliest we’re looking at is probably the end of that first week in November, and there’s a lot of work being done behind the scenes right now to work with the providers in the area and to get orders submitted so that the second it gets authorized by CDC orders go in vaccines start shipping and we are ready to put shots in arms as soon as we can so we’re doing all the front-loading work that we can now to be ready to go,” Hubbard said.

Dr. Vashist urged that when this vaccine is approved, that parents consult with their children’s pediatricians.

“It’s a very exciting development. We have a lot of school-going children in that age group, who are going there and who are not vaccinated and getting exposed to COVID-19. With the Delta variant we also learned that kids are not immune to COVID-19, and as the variants come, this will continue to be a concern. So, the ball is now in the FDA court,” he said.

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