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Q&A: Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine works well in young kids. So what's next?

Meredith Cohn, Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

Q. Children are now making up a larger share of COVID-19 cases than at any time during the pandemic. In Maryland, kids age 9 and younger now make up 17.5% of new cases. How important is vaccinating them in ending the pandemic?

A. Maryland has a great history of very high vaccination rates and it’s not any different for COVID vaccinations. The state is in the top 10 for adults vaccinated. And that’s one reason I have kids in the hospitals with COVID, but we are not overwhelmed with pediatric COVID cases. Vaccinated adults are protecting the kids.

But we do need the kids in the mix to end the pandemic.

We have done a study at Maryland looking at parents’ likelihood of vaccinating their children. There was no bigger predictor for parents wanting to vaccinate their kids than if they themselves were vaccinated or planning to be vaccinated. I have high hopes in Maryland since so many adults were ready and willing to vaccinate themselves that they will vaccinate their children.

We need everyone on board. I see list of everyone admitted to the (University of Maryland Medical Center), adults and children, and almost all are unvaccinated. They go to a community hospital and get worse and worse and end up here in the hospital on ECMO, the machine that helps oxygenate their blood. It very sad and it’s very costly to treat someone with COVID. The vaccine is not that costly and prevents nearly all hospitalizations.

Q. How might vaccination affect schools and their testing and other programs to keep kids safe?

A. Once students get vaccinated, it’s not likely to change what needs to be done in schools. Testing and mitigation efforts will continue. Not all kids will be vaccinated quickly and there will be a couple of cases even among kids who are vaccinated.

 

Hopefully, over the long run, things will change. Next year, when most children are vaccinated, it will allow us to change the way we do things.

For now, each school or district has made a decision on the best approach, and it’s all about risk mitigation. If you’re too restrictive, kids won’t be in school or out so frequently it’s worse than if you never started back. But if you’re not restrictive enough, kids continue to be at risk in school. There is a sweet spot most think they have figured out.

Q. There has been value to having three vaccines available for adults because they increase supply and choices. Is that the same for kids?

A. Yes. The Moderna pediatric vaccine study we are a part of at Maryland is for children aged 6 to 11. For Pfizer it’s 5 to 11. Our 6-to-11-year-olds are getting their second vaccination now and it’s half the adult dose. We don’t have data yet, but we will in upcoming months, and our hope and expectation is that it will mimic what we saw in Pfizer’s vaccine.

Hopefully before this year is out, we will have two vaccines for all school-age kids. Then later this year or early next year, we’ll have a vaccine for preschoolers. Down the pike, we will have a Johnson & Johnson vaccine for kids.

And then there’s Novavax, which is studying its vaccine in adults and children. So we could have a fourth vaccine for adults and children in the United States. I don’t encourage anyone to hold out for a certain vaccine, but Novavax is made in a more traditional way, and that may appeal to some people — so whatever we can do with a new vaccine or current vaccine to get people to take them.

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