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A COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available for children under 5

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The youngest children in this country may soon be eligible for vaccines in the U.S. Pfizer and BioNTech asked the FDA for an emergency authorization for shots for children between 6 months and 5 years old. But will parents give kids under the age of 5 the shot? Dr. Claire Boogaard is the medical director of the COVID vaccine program at Children's National in Washington. Thanks for joining us.

CLAIRE BOOGAARD: No problem. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So I understand you have a couple very young children, including one under 5. If these vaccines are authorized, is the science sound enough for you to feel safe giving the vaccine to your young one?

BOOGAARD: You know, it's a great question. I have a 4-year-old, and in this case, that is a tricky question. So in December, Pfizer reported that although safe in all the children under 5, this extra-low-dose vaccine only created an antibody response in those less than 2 but failed to do so in the 3 and 4-year-olds. And antibodies are those circulating protectors in our body that the vaccine creates to help us fight off the infection. Pfizer has used these antibody levels in the past to show the effectiveness of their vaccines and was hoping that this dose would create the same response in all kids under 5. But unfortunately, it didn't do it in my child's age group.

FADEL: Yeah.

BOOGAARD: So since the 3 and 4-year-olds did not have the antibody response they're hoping for, they are in the process of trialing this third vaccine, given two months after the second. But that data won't be available until March. So I'm interested as a parent and as a scientist just to see the data that the FDA will show us publicly in just a few weeks to see if there is any other benefit besides antibody response that we as parents with particularly those 3 and 4-year-olds can look forward to.

FADEL: But isn't this process pretty unusual, the way it's being done? Does it concern you?

BOOGAARD: You know it - my understanding is this is not typical, and it is unusual. But my understanding is the federal regulators were taking everything into context, including this very large omicron wave of infections. And this wave of omicron that we're still in the midst of, even though we're hopefully on the way out of - it's affected many people, as we all know. And like the other waves, it has had the biggest effect on unvaccinated individuals...

FADEL: Right.

BOOGAARD: ...Which include those children under 5, who don't have access to the vaccine.

FADEL: Right.

BOOGAARD: So they're hoping that this can give at least the children under 2 access to the vaccine and then hopefully give some protection or at least speed along the process to be able to show the effectiveness of this vaccine sooner than later.

FADEL: Because I know a lot of parents that are just really eager to get their youngest ones vaccinated so they can feel safer as a family. What are you hearing from parents of under-5s about whether they will vaccinate?

BOOGAARD: It's a mix. It's - we've now been through a few waves of this, and I'd say it's no different with this younger group than it has been with the older ones. So there's going to be a group of parents and patients that are eager and just want to get it so they can, you know, change some behaviors, go see high-risk individuals that they've been missing and things like that.

FADEL: Yeah.

BOOGAARD: But then there's going to be a group of people that are very nervous and hesitant and just want time to understand the science, to talk to their providers, and the pediatricians will be ready for that when that comes. So we're here, and we want to talk to you guys about it. And then, of course, there's going to be a group that's just really uncomfortable with vaccines that we hope we can reach as well.

FADEL: Is there any indicator from the numbers with the above-5 kids 'cause only about 1 in 5 kids between the ages of 5 and 11 have been vaccinated so far in the U.S., so that - does that indicate hesitancy among a lot of parents?

BOOGAARD: Yeah, I think we as parents tend to take risk on ourselves more than we take risk on for our children.

FADEL: Yeah.

BOOGAARD: But what's hard for me as a pediatrician in this is this vaccine is incredibly safe for young kids. So between those - those between 5 and 11 in particular, the side effects are very low. The side effects that we do see are the side effects we expect because we stick a needle in your arm, so it might be a little sore or red, or you can get the typical immune system response, which is what we're asking your body to do. And those are the muscle aches and pains, maybe headache, lymphadenopathy. Very small group get a fever. So if I can implore people who are still nervous to think about it, those are expected responses to your body protecting you, and those are things that we will - I'm certainly expecting to see in the younger group as well. But luckily, there's been no serious side effects reported in those young kids.

FADEL: So what would you say to parents of under-5s about the vaccine if you were to tell them to get it?

BOOGAARD: Yeah, I would say this is all good news. We're going to wait to see what the science says, but Pfizer has reported that it is very safe. And hopefully it will be effective in most kids, but we'll know more in the next few weeks. And just stay hopeful. We're almost through this.

FADEL: That's Dr. Claire Boogaard. She's the medical director of the COVID vaccine program at Children's National and a parent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.