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When Can Children Get COVID-19 Vaccines In Northeast Ohio?

Health officials expect the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized for kids 12 and up in the coming weeks. [Anuta23 / Shutterstock]
Health officials expect the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized for kids 12 and up in the coming weeks. [Anuta23 / Shutterstock]

COVID-19 vaccines could soon be opening up in northeast Ohio to a new group: kids 12 and up.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will decide in the coming weeks whether to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15, said Dr. Purva Grover, director of pediatric emergency departments at Cleveland Clinic.

The vaccine is currently authorized for anyone ages 16 and up.

The vaccine was reported to be safe and 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms in adolescent participants, according to Pfizer's Phase III clinical trial data.

Pediatric COVID-19 vaccine trials have taken longer than adult trials because researchers must monitor children for symptoms and side effects very closely, Grover said.

“It has to be catered to a body which has got growing organs,” she said. “The composition of that vaccine might be different than what might be given to the adult, in terms of components inside it.”

Researchers are monitoring pediatric participants carefully to make sure the doses do not harm child development, Grover said, and so far, the vaccine appeared to be safe in the adolescents studied.

“It’s only now in May, June that we are talking about pediatric dosing, which I think is a testament to how extremely rigorous those trials have been and how careful we’ve been in rollout of the pediatric patients,” she said.

Summit County health commissioner Donna Skoda is optimistic that the vaccine will be authorized for pre-teens soon.

“I think you’ll be seeing it here pretty quick,” said Summit County health commissioner Donna Skoda.

If authorized, Skoda said the vaccine rollout will be similar to what is going on now with vaccine clinics in Northeast Ohio. Children will likely be vaccinated at pharmacies, hospitals and community clinics, she said.

It’s not likely, however, that primary care offices will be able to administer the vaccines to children due to the extra-cold storage needed for the Pfizer doses, Skoda added.

“Now, if Moderna and [Johnson & Johnson] go down that route, J&J could definitely be a gamechanger if it got approval for youngsters, because that is more like a regular vaccine. It just takes normal requirements and it’s a whole lot easier to use,” Skoda said.

Moderna is also testing its COVID-19 vaccine in younger people and is expected to request FDA authorization in the coming weeks. Johnson & Johnson vaccines are temporarily halted from distribution in the United States due to a small number of people developing rare blood disorders.

Skoda and Grover both encourage parents to sign their children up for COVID-19 vaccines if they become available.

Child vaccinations will help the U.S. reach a turning point in the pandemic faster, Grover said.

“Until we actually get through [children] and we are able to protect them, we will always be lagging behind in that concept of herd immunity,” she said.

While children overall have had fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths compared to older populations, Northeast Ohio physicians are concerned about lingering COVID symptoms and potential long-haul effects of pediatric infections, Grover added.

Plus, children account for much of the asymptomatic spread of the virus, Skoda said.

“You’re seeing a group of children that can spread the disease, particularly to vulnerable older grandparents or relatives, and so it’s critical that the kids be vaccinated as well, simply to stop the spread,” Skoda said.

While Skoda expects the Pfizer vaccine to roll out for kids 12 and up in just a few short weeks, more research is needed about the safety of the vaccines in younger age groups and infants, she said.

“When you start going below 12 years of age, it gets a little more difficult to do the monitoring process, the clinical reporting, the history you need,” Skoda added. “Kids need to be able to tell you what’s going on, and it gets a little more difficult at that point, so those, I think, clinical trials will take longer.”

Skoda and Grover also encourage pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations so that kids can safely participate in social activities such as school and sports. The lack of socialization during the pandemic has contributed negatively to kids’ mental health, Grover said.

If parents have questions about whether to vaccinate their kids against COVID-19, Skoda recommends they talk to their child’s pediatrician.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.