Pfizer has asked the U.S. government to allow the use of its COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11.
If approved, children could begin getting vaccinated within weeks.
“Many parents and pediatricians are clamoring for protection for children younger than 12, today’s age cutoff for the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech,” the Associated Press reported. “Not only can youngsters sometimes get seriously ill, but keeping them in school can be a challenge with the coronavirus still raging in poorly vaccinated communities.”
An independent expert panel will publicly debate the issue on October 26.
Pfizer says younger people should get just a third of the dose now given to adults. “After their second dose, the 5- to 11-year-olds developed virus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teens and young adults get from regular-strength shots,” the AP wrote.
The drugmaker company “studied the lower dose in 2,268 volunteers ages 5 to 11, and has said there were no serious side effects. The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that sometimes occurs after the second dose of the regular-strength vaccine, mostly in young men,” the wire service reported.
The request came after a new study of nearly 3.5 million Pfizer vaccine recipients found the shots are 90% effective against severe COVID-19 illness for at least six months after full vaccination.
“Our study confirms that vaccines are a critical tool for controlling the pandemic and remain highly effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalization, including from the Delta and other variants of concern. Protection against infection does decline in the months following a second dose,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Sara Tartof in a statement, HealthDay reported.
“While this study provides evidence that immunity wanes for all age groups that received the vaccine, the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has called for additional research to determine if booster shots should be made available to all age groups eligible for this vaccine,” she said.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the use of boosters for the Pfizer vaccine for older adults and some with health issues, but scientists say more data is needed on whether boosters should be more widely administered.
The study found that vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant of COVID-19 was 93% after the first month, but that declined to 53% after just four months. Against other coronavirus variants that have been circulating, efficacy declined to 67% from 97%.
“To us, that suggests Delta is not an escape variant that is completely evading vaccine protection,” Tartof said. “If it was, we would probably not have seen high protection after vaccination, because vaccination would not be working in that case. It would start low, and stay low.”
The decline in the effectiveness of the vaccine is “most likely due to waning and not caused by delta or other variants escaping vaccine protection,” Pfizer chief medical officer for vaccines Dr. Luis Jodar said. “Our variant-specific analysis clearly shows that the BNT162b2 vaccine is effective against all current variants of concern, including delta,” he said in a release published alongside the study.