‘We’re pretty excited’: Local schools, pediatrician react to Pfizer vaccine announcement for kids aged 5-11

Local Coronavirus Coverage

TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL) – The pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, announced Monday its COVID-19 vaccine is safe for children aged 5-11 and will soon apply for emergency use authorization with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The news was excitedly received by those working with children daily, like teachers and pediatricians, in the Tri-Cities region.

Dr. Randy Wykoff with the East Tennessee State University School of Public Health told News Channel 11 that it is not a simple approval process.

“The decision about what age groups can be vaccinated has to be driven by data, and the Food and Drug Administration looks very carefully at both safety and effectiveness data, and so none of us can yet predict what they’re going to see but assuming that the vaccines are as safe and effective for children as they are for adults,” Wykoff said.

Dr. Joseph Ley, a pediatrician with Holston Medical Group, expressed his relief at the Pfizer announcement Monday.

“I think we’re pretty excited. We’re looking forward to that ability. I know that it’s still going to be a little bit of time yet,” Ley said.

He said kids have been affected by — and infected with — COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, but that the Delta variant is drawing more attention to the age group, as the disease seems to be presenting more often in minors and with higher severity than before.

“We are seeing kids with COVID at that age,” Ley said. “In fact, we had all the way down to a two-month-old this last week with COVID, now not hospitalized or anything there, but it still is affecting them. And we’re seeing quite a few every day that are being positive.”

Ley said it is exciting to see the process unfolding, allowing this newly identified vulnerable population the opportunity to get vaccinated. He added that the vaccine could be available as soon as next month.

“Obviously, we want to see the full information on the data, and we’ll be waiting for FDA approval and CDC recommendations, but with them hopefully submitting by the end of the month, within a month, maybe we should be able to have the vaccination available for that age,” Ley said.

Though the contents of the vaccine vial will be the same as for adults, the size of the dose will differ, Ley explained.

“So, it’s going to be at a different dose, so it looks like it will be at a dose that’s a third of the amount that’s in the adult dose,” Ley said. “They’re looking at an even smaller dose for the really young children. But that may be still next year before we get to use that.”

‘It’s exciting to hear about’

In the Tri-Cities region, certain districts have had to shut down classes, grade levels, and even entire school systems due to COVID exposures. To them, the Pfizer vaccine news was positive.

“When you think about all of the different strategies that can be helpful when it comes to helping schools operate and stay open safely, obviously vaccinations are key pieces of that,” Kingsport City Schools Assistant Superintendent Andy True told News Channel 11. “So it’s encouraging to hear news that in the future we could be looking at vaccinations for those under 12. I think anytime you have another mitigation strategy that can help improve the health environments in our schools right now, that would be information that would be enthusiastically received by educators.”

True said that the school system is working to implement several mitigation strategies to stop the spread of COVID-19 in schools, but having an additional tool in the arsenal is beneficial.

“This is certainly encouraging to see that we might be moving towards that kind of availability and certainly – like I say – anything that we can do to improve the health of our schools. It’s exciting to hear about,” True said.

In Washington County, Tennessee, the school district closed over the Labor Day weekend holiday for 10 days due to the system’s high infection rate.

“You know there’s still a lot of debate about vaccinations in general. So families will need to make that decision, but I think it is, I think it certainly can be another option to keep students in school as we all want,” Superintendent Dr. Jerry Boyd said.

Boyd said he thinks the teachers in his district were excited by the news of the Pfizer vaccine becoming available to a younger age group.

“I think as time passes and the data continues to be collected and demonstrates effectiveness or not, but I think in this case it’s looking like effectiveness. So we’ll certainly look forward to those options in the future,” Boyd added.

Keeping kids in school is the objective both for area school systems and pediatricians.

“Those school kids, the ability to get them protected and have less worries with being at school and being in school exposures could be lessened and lessens the risk,” said Dr. Ley. “And then, hopefully, we won’t see as many kids that really do get COVID disease, so I think it’s a hopeful thing.”

Ley said this vaccine would face emergency use authorization before it can be fully approved, just like the other COVID vaccines did last year.

Pfizer reported it studied a lower dose of its two-dose vaccine in nearly 2,300 elementary school-aged kids and found their antibody levels to be just as strong as teenagers and young adults.

COVID-19 vaccine maker, Moderna, is also studying its shots in this new age group.

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