On February 1, Pfizer asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of its Covid vaccine for kids ages six months to four years. Cue parents taking celebratory Chambong hits. Then in a stunning reversal on February 11, the pharmaceutical company announced it would postpone its application until it had data from its latest round of clinical trials. Cue the literal bong hits.

On March 23, more than a month later, the long, frustrating road for parents of toddlers and threenagers took another twist: Moderna announced it plans to submit Covid vaccination data to the FDA for children between six months and six years. (The company will also update its shot submissions for ages six–11 and 12–17; Pfizer's Covid vaccine is already authorized for five- to 11-year-olds and 12s and up.)

It's a whole lot of confusing, isn't it? Herein, answers to some of your most pressing queries.

When will kids under five be able to get the Covid vaccine?

Before the whole Pfizer about-face, we were eyeing a late-February or early-March timeframe. That's now looking like early or mid-May, with new Pfizer data supposedly available in early April. The approval process for the five-to-11 set took around four weeks. 

The picture gets even more murky with Moderna, which simply said it would submit data "in the coming weeks." Given all that, May (or even June) looks to be a likely timeframe.

What's different about the vaccines for this age group?

The dosage for one; the effectiveness for another. 

Pfizer's adult doses are 30 micrograms each, with kids five-to-11 getting a third of that. For this youngest age group, Pfizer tested mini doses of just 3 micrograms. The results were mixed. Two mini doses, given three weeks apart, worked well in babies and toddlers up to two years old, provoking an immune response equivalent to that of a young adult. For those between two and four, however, the shots prompted some immune response but not to the desired levels of protection. Efficacy aside, Pfizer reported no safety concerns with this age group.

It's a similar story for Moderna. Its clinical trials tested two doses of 25 micrograms each for children six months to six years and 50 micrograms for kids six–11. Adults, by comparison, received 100-microgram shots.

The Moderna doses did stimulate a "robust neutralizing antibody response" in the youngest age group, but its ability to prevent symptomatic infection in the first place was just 43.7 percent in those six months to two years and 37.5 percent in those two to six.

Forget efficacy. I've heard a lot about heart inflammation. What gives?

Although myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, has been associated with Covid vaccines, experts stress it is extremely rare.

According to a recent report, of the over 192 million people who were vaxxed from December 2020 to August 2021, 1,626 people developed myocarditis. Males (82 percent) between the ages of 12 and 24 were the most likely to report it, and a majority recovered.

A separate report of data from five- to 11-year-olds notes just 11 verified cases of myocarditis after 8.7 million doses, with all recovered or in recovery. 

In Moderna's recent data, no cases of myocarditis were reported.

Will there be huge demand here once a Covid shot is authorized for kids under five?

It depends. While there may be an initial rush of eager parents booking up slots once the vaccine is authorized, especially given the Charlie Brown football pull that happened earlier, others may look at the less-than-ideal efficacy rates in the face of stealth omicron and simply shrug.

This is about in line with that Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found only about a third of parents would get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible, while the remaining two-thirds were planning to wait or not pursue a shot at all. 

This holds true for our region as well. Although King County is highly vaccinated (we're talking over 85 percent of those who are eligible), that decreases with age groups. Of the recently eligible five- to 11-year-olds in our region (around 183,000 kids), nearly 60 percent had received one dose by mid-March. The number dips to just over half who were fully vaccinated.

So what can frustrated parents do now while they wait?

According to Dr. Surabhi Vora, who specializes in pediatric infectious disease at Seattle Children’s and UW School of Medicine: "I can understand the frustration and confusion around these mixed messages and delay. Vaccines are coming. We are working as fast as we can to get this [Pfizer] three-dose data to ensure that this strategy will provide the protection our little ones need. I am glad that for now Covid rates are coming down. In the meantime, everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated and boosted to help protect our youngest who can not."

Show Comments