Last Friday, the Federal Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Many parents, eager to protect their children and those around them, breathed a sigh of relief. Some, less worried about health issues among this lower-risk group, just want to avoid an umpteenth school-related quarantine. Others are hesitant or vehemently opposed to vaccinating their kids.
Adults have been vaccinated against the virus for months now, but this large, pint-sized demographic has been left on the sidelines while clinical trials targeting their age group have occurred. Remote and hybrid learning last year was a blunt instrument to try to prevent transmission among the school-age population. But, as children have returned to the classroom and extracurricular activities, and the community wakes from its pandemic slumber, getting kids vaccinated will be one major step to a return to normalcy.
This isn’t only good news for parents. Frankly, it’s good news for everyone in the community. The vaccine, which was studied in approximately 3,100 children ages 5 through 11, was found to be almost 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in that age group.
The last few weeks have seen a sustained and high level of virus circulating through the area. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have continued to edge upward, and area hospitals are reporting a strain to an already taxed health care system. Every vaccine that can be administered will help and opening access to this large population will allow the community to get to a level of immunity that will slow the spread.
In Hancock County, roughly 70 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated, which will hopefully translate to a high rate of vaccine uptake for this younger demographic as well. While it is true that children are less likely to get very sick or to die from COVID-19, it can happen. However, what we do know about kids is that they are remarkably effective at spreading germs and while they may not feel much of the effects from the virus, the chance of them passing it to others is high. Many elderly and infirmed members of the community are still at great risk of catching the disease even if they are vaccinated.
Schools, hospitals and their community partners must all get ready to organize vaccine clinics for this demographic. Last week, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said that he expects schools to be the primary location for child vaccinations but said pharmacies and doctors’ offices will play a role as well.
If we act fast, and start to get shots in little arms, we will be one step closer to worry-free holiday gatherings and reduced transmission rates during the winter months.