COVID Vaccine Rollout for Children Ages 5 to 11 Comes With Familiar Challenges

As the White House rolls out its COVID-19 vaccination programFor children aged 5-11 years, concerns about vaccine hesitancy are top of mind for officials from the Biden administration.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, told The 19th she hopes evidence and data can help alleviate parents’ concerns and push against misinformation surrounding the vaccine. She stated that parents should be able to understand how the clinical trials were conducted and assessed for younger children.

The scientists and researchers “have the right expertise and the right training and are really bringing in a lot of diverse perspectives here,” Nunez-Smith said, adding that the safety and efficacy data are strong.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisory committee on Tuesday unanimously recommended that children 5 to 11 years old get vaccinated against the coronavirus, using a low-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that has been given emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

Based on the trial data, the Pfizer-BioNTech’s smaller vaccine dose for this age group is 90.7 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections.

Misinformation circulating about the vaccine has been “one of the more surprising and disturbing and challenging parts of” vaccination efforts during the pandemic, Nunez-Smith said. Public health experts and the administration have sought reliable sources of information such as pediatricians to make sure they are able to relay the facts to families.

The number of infectious diseases deaths has dropped overall because of childhood vaccinations. In light of that, the fact that an estimated 700 children have died from COVID-19 is a “staggeringly high number,” Nunez-Smith said.

Biden’s administration stated that the program for children aged 5-11 years old will be fully operational by November 8. Doses will be provided by 20,000 locations across the country, including pharmacies and schools.

Nunez-Smith stated that the administration is working with state and local officials in order to ensure equal access to vaccine doses.

During the pandemic, people with low incomes, Blacks, Indigenous, and Latinx have faced greater difficulties accessing vaccines. Factors such as transportation and the ability to take off time to get their child vaccinated, in addition to equitable distribution of vaccine doses, are important.

The Biden administration provided a tax credit to small and medium-sized businesses to pay for paid leave to workers who needed to get the COVID-19 vaccination or to recover from any side effects. However, parents were not eligible for this benefit as they had to take the time to get their kids vaccinated.

Nunez-Smith stated that the administration will continue to push to provide paid leave options and to circulate key information, such as the fact that the vaccine is free and does not require proof or citizenship documentation.

“I think this is really, as the president said, just a really important turning moment for the health of our children, the wellness of our children, the educational attainment and achievement of our children,” Nunez-Smith said. “The vaccine is the most powerful tool in the toolbox.”

This vaccine breakthrough will bring relief to many families, particularly those with immunocompromised children like Elena Hung’s.

Hung’s 7-year-old daughter, Xiomara, has a number of medical needs and developmental disabilities that put her at higher risk. Her family has been living in close to total lockdown since March 2020, with groceries delivered, virtual schooling, and chats with Zoom friends.

“It has been absolutely devastating and filled with anxiety and fear. It’s no exaggeration for me to say that every single day of this pandemic has been a life and death matter,” said Hung, who is the co-founder and executive director of the children’s advocacy group Little Lobbyists,.

Hung feels lighter knowing that her two children will be vaccinated next week. After nearly 20 months of social distancing, Hung said she hasn’t thought much about what life will look like once her family is fully vaccinated.

“In large part it will depend on how many children are going to get vaccinated,” Hung said. “It’s approved, it’s available, but will parents take their kids to get vaccinated?”