By Joanna Storey, MD
For months, my partners and I have watched as our patients and their families have suffered through social isolation, school closings, child care crises, and other quarantine challenges. While fortunately, very few of our patients and their parents have been seriously ill with coronavirus, the fear of getting sick has pervaded daily life. I’ve had preschool-aged patients with coronavirus who have broken down in tears as I have informed their parents about their test results. None of these patients have been very sick at all, but the constant drone of grown-ups’ conversations about COVID has made them believe that there’s a reason to be worried.
In light of this, the December approval of two vaccines (that have demonstrated over 90% effectiveness in preventing illness from coronavirus) is something to cheer. Finally, we are able to imagine a light at the end of the dark tunnel of coronavirus suffering. The catch for pediatricians and the families in their care: Neither of the two vaccines has been yet recommended for broad use in children and adolescents. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for those 16 years of age and up and the Moderna vaccine for 18 years and up.
The reason that the vaccines are not currently approved for wide pediatric use that we are still awaiting research outcomes on safety and efficacy in younger people. The original vaccine trials started last summer, and research subjects were mainly adults who, as a group, are at much greater risk for serious coronavirus-related illness. Studies using children as vaccine subjects have begun, but we will likely be waiting months for the data to be collected and then evaluated. Only if the vaccines prove both safe and effective in these studies will the FDA consider expanding approval for their use in infants and children. While it’s frustrating to wait, it’s crucial that research demonstrates that vaccinating is the right thing to do for our patients.
In the meantime, we are applying through the Mississippi State Health Department for our clinics to become vaccination sites for our patients. Our physicians, nurses, and staff are being immunized as the vaccine has become available for front-line healthcare workers. I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine last week. It was almost painless, and I experienced only a brief achiness the following day, cured with a dose of Tylenol. As soon as higher-risk groups like the elderly and those with underlying conditions have been immunized and an adequate vaccine supply is available for the general population, I will be recommending my 16 year-old-and-up patients (and my own older teenage children) be vaccinated.