New vaccine discoveries pose tough questions for parents of young children

For American parents, especially those with young children, the past two months have been dizzying and beyond frustrating. In early Feb...


For American parents, especially those with young children, the past two months have been dizzying and beyond frustrating.

In early February, federal regulators announced they would evaluate Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for younger children — only to scrap that plan 10 days later, citing doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness in that group of children. age.

Shortly after, scientists reported that the vaccine was not weakly protective against infection with the Omicron variant in children aged 5 to 11 years and that it seemed offer little defense against moderate Covid disease in adolescents aged 12 to 17.

On Monday, citing this data, Florida’s surgeon general said healthy children no need to be immunizedadvice that Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, called “deeply troubling.”

Through it all, experts have continued to endorse vaccines, noting that while the Omicron variant may be able to penetrate immune defenses and infect people, vaccines remain. prevent serious illness and death – and can do so for years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that record the number of children under 5 had been hospitalized during the Omicron surge, highlighting the need for vaccines for these children. But the agency has since said 90% of Americans can safely stop wearing masks in public indoor spaces, even in schools with young children.

Who could blame parents for feeling confused?

“What’s confusing is like there’s no clear right answer anymore,” said Anne Gonzalez, a 41-year-old mother of two who manages volunteers for a large religious nonprofit. in Saint Louis. “I’ve gotten to the point where all I can do is do what I think is good for my family.”

Fortunately, the next few weeks should bring some clarification. Pfizer and Moderna plan to release results from trials of their vaccines in young children. The results, if positive, should lead to a new round of regulatory reviews, possibly as early as April, which could well allow tens of millions of young people to be vaccinated.

But these findings will come as the Omicron variant fades in the United States, complicating parental decisions about whether to vaccinate children.

Fewer than one in four children aged 5 to 11 are now fully immunized. More than half of adolescents aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated, but only about 12% have received a booster dose. These percentages are even lower in rural areas the United States.

Children are less likely to get sick, so the balance between risk and benefit has never been the same as for adults. And right now, up to 95% of the country has some degree of protection against the virus through vaccines or previous infection, according to recent CDC data.

Experts fear that the most recent findings have made it even more difficult to persuade some parents to vaccinate their children.

“We should be disappointed with the data — we wish it was better,” said Luciana Borio, former acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration. “But in the short term, it is important that parents continue to vaccinate their children.”

The country could still experience an upsurge in the fall or winter, and the best protection for children will be to have had at least two vaccines before that, she said.

Vaccines continue to prevent serious illness and death, even with the Omicron variant. This trend is particularly clear in hospitals, said Dr. James Campbell, a physician at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases.

Of his pediatric patients who were sick enough to need a mechanical ventilator or die, “not every single one of them was vaccinated,” Dr. Campbell said.

Recent studies suggest that the problem is not so much the vaccine as the dose.

In adult trials in 2020, vaccine makers made best guesses about the right dose and opted for short intervals between injections to protect people as quickly as possible during the initial surge.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were shown to be safe and potently protective in clinical trials and were quickly cleared for use. But trials in children were complicated by the arrival of the Delta and Omicron variants, and the vaccine appeared less protective in children aged 2 to 4 years.

For the moment, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one authorized for children. (Vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are licensed only for adults.)

In the Pfizer trials, adolescents aged 12 to 17 received 30 micrograms, the same dose given to adults. But children aged 5 to 11 received 10 micrograms, and those aged 6 months to 5 years received only three micrograms.

These doses may have been too low to elicit an adequate and sustained response. But federal officials who saw the data told the New York Times that higher doses produced too many fevers in children.

What if you can’t give a high enough dose to protect children against the Omicron variant due to side effects? This is the problem that scientists and federal officials are currently grappling with.

Pfizer and BioNTech are currently testing a third dose in children under 12 to determine if it can provide the level of protection that two doses could not. The FDA is still evaluating the Moderna vaccine for use in children 6 to 11 years old. Last week, the agency rejected a request for the authorization of the Indian-made vaccine Covaxin for children.

There are other Covid vaccines, like those made by Novavax and Sanofi, that might work well in children. Federal health officials should consider all of these options and test whether a different dose or a longer interval between doses would improve immune response, experts said.

“It seems to me that vaccines for children take longer than they should, given the importance of protecting this population,” Dr. Borio said. “The sooner we reinvigorate our search for safe and effective vaccines for children, the better off we will be.”

The disappointing results, along with the decline of Omicron’s push, have significantly complicated policy decisions for local health officials.

Contrary to Florida recommendations, Louisiana and California will require school children to be vaccinated by fall 2022, and the District of Columbia has set a March 1 deadline for students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated. vaccinated.

Other states may adopt similar policies, but likely will only do so if the FDA grants the vaccine full approval for use in school children, said Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, an organization non-partisan.

“For many of them, that will be the key to requiring vaccines as a mandate,” she said.

A school vaccination mandate would allay the fears of many families with children who have medical vulnerabilities.

Almost everyone in Heather Keever’s family, including her son, Wesley, 14, suffers from heart disease, high blood pressure and kidney disease. But because they technically aren’t immunocompromised, they didn’t qualify for housing at work or school, said Ms. Keever, 42, a consultant in suburban Chicago.

“They forget that some of us literally can’t take the mask off,” at least until rates come down a lot more, she said. “I felt like I didn’t matter and I wasn’t important and I was probably disposable. And I still do.

Some scientists have also said they will continue to wear masks until the numbers come down due to the risk of infection.

Because the youngest children have yet to be vaccinated, “I would be very hesitant to ask a child under 5 to remove the masks indoors,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at the University of Yale which has long studied Covid, the cluster of symptoms that can persist long after the acute infection resolves.

Given the confusing results about vaccine effectiveness and mixed messages about the benefits of masks, families are weighing the risks on their own — and coming to very different conclusions.

Jennifer Steinberg, a management consultant in Wilmington, Delaware, has two daughters who share their time with her and their immunocompromised father.

“Yes, great, it protects against serious diseases,” Ms Steinberg said of the vaccine. “But if your children are going to get infected again, it’s a huge disruption to family life. I will probably remain masked for the foreseeable future.

Katie Sunderland of Arlington, Va., has long been willing to ditch the masks. If her children, 7 and 5, are infected, “it’s a trade-off I’m fine with if they’re able to unmask themselves and see faces,” she said.

“I am not convinced that wearing a mask would in any way significantly reduce the risk of contracting Covid – especially not the type of masks I see most children wearing,” said Ms Sunderland, 37. . “It doesn’t make sense for me to hamper my children’s development for this very, very, very low risk.”

But many other parents still don’t know what to do. Ms Gonzalez has a niece and nephew who have congenital heart defects and lung capacity issues, and she will continue to wear masks to protect them, she said.

But if her son’s school drops the mask requirement, “we don’t know yet what we’re going to do.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: New vaccine discoveries pose tough questions for parents of young children
New vaccine discoveries pose tough questions for parents of young children
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