MILWAUKEE — Pharmacies and health systems across the state could begin offering COVID-19 vaccinations to children 5 to 11 years old as soon as Wednesday, Nov. 3.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is meeting Tuesday to decide whether to recommend Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for that age group to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The final decision will be up to the CDC’s director.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds last Friday, but studies show parents’ concerns are high for their young kids.
The wait could soon be over for kindergarteners through sixth graders who want an extra layer of protection against coronavirus, but national surveys suggest the decision comes with plenty of hesitancy for their parents who are required to offer their consent in Wisconsin.
Let’s go ‘360’ to hear from a parent who wants to wait it out, another parent who already got her daughter vaccinated, an organization representing school workers in Wisconsin, and the leader of a health system’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine trials.
Brigette Rahming has an 8-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. Rahming says she and her husband waited several months after they became eligible to get vaccinated and she’s even more hesitant about vaccinating her children.
“I’m momma bear, it’s my job to protect them and that’s what I’m going to do regardless of what anybody else says,” she said. “I’m going to make the best choice for my kids, period.”
Rahming says her biggest concerns for her kids are side effects and potential long-term effects.
The ‘COVID States Project’ surveyed more than 20,000 parents across all 50 states on this issue in September. 65 percent of those parents said long-term health effects was a “major concern."
“I just have to see more data,” Rahming said. “Once it’s actually been implemented and they’ve had some more testing and a little bit more detail, and actually talking to my pediatrician. We didn’t get ours until I actually talked to our primary physician. That was important.”
Caran Quadracci says she and her 13-year-old daughter got vaccinated as soon as they became eligible.
“My mother-in-law suffered from polio when the epidemic broke out, and she had lasting effects for years and died early because of post-polio. So we take this seriously,” Quadracci said.
A team of researchers from Harvard, Northwestern, Northeastern, and Rutgers found the likelihood of parents vaccinating their children is highly related to their own vaccination status.
78 percent of vaccinated parents say it would be “extremely likely” or “somewhat likely” that their kids would get vaccinated. Meanwhile, 58 percent of unvaccinated parents say it’s “somewhat unlikely” or “extremely unlikely” that they would vaccinate their children.
“For me, it was an easy choice,” Quadracci said. “I thought that I was protecting her, I was protecting her friends, I was protecting family, but I understand people’s concerns.”
Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ data shows no one in the state 9 years old or younger has died from coronavirus complications. However, nearly 600 have been hospitalized.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council represents teachers and school support staff across the state. WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen says getting 5 to 11 year olds vaccinated will result in fewer elementary school outbreaks.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” she said. “We’ve been clear all along about that importance of having these safe and healthy schools, so I think this is a real opportunity to be able to continue that in-person learning with less disruption.”
WEAC says now is a great time for parents to talk with their family physicians about getting their children vaccinated. Dr. William Hartman is UW Health’s principal investigator on pediatric COVID-19 vaccine trials.
“Pfizer’s trial is focused on their pediatric dose, or one third of their adult dose, and its efficacy and safety in this age group, the 5 to 11 year olds,” Dr. Hartman said. “They found that it was 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. So in their vaccine group, they had 3 cases of COVID. In their unvaccinated group, they had 16.”
Dr. Hartman says the medical community is concerned about parental vaccine hesitancy and how it could prolong the pandemic, but he says there is no need to fear long-term health effects for your child or yourself.
“While this is a newer vaccine against a new virus, the platforms on which these vaccines are built are not new and they’ve been researched for almost 20 years,” he said. “We have not detected even in the billions of people that have been vaccinated worldwide at this point any long-term effects from these vaccines in over a year now that they’ve been administered to people.”
Dr. Hartman says Pfizer’s trials found children ages 5 to 11 had fewer side effects than older age groups, likely because of the smaller dose. Dr. Hartman says kids may get a sore arm or a fever, but those symptoms usually go away within 24 hours.