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Health & Wellness

Approval of COVID vaccines for kids under 5 could come as soon as next week

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Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT News
UT-Austin School of Nursing student Emily Houston holds a vial of COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer BioNTech during injections to health care workers at Dell Medical School in Austin.

Advisory boards for the FDA and CDC are expected to weigh in soon, making it likely vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer could soon be available for young kids.

The Food and Drug Administration now says COVID 19 vaccines by both Moderna and Pfizer appear safe and effective for children under the age of five. And later this week, a panel of outside experts will vote on whether the vaccines can be rolled out for the nation’s 18 million babies, toddlers and preschoolers.

Dr. Trish Perl is a professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern in Dallas. She told the Standard that if regulators approve these vaccines for children under five, the shots could be rolled out as early as next week.

“For the COVID vaccines, the rollouts are the approval processes have occurred over a week to two-week periods. Normally that would be much longer than it currently is, but I expect that we’ll hear over a week,” Perl said.

But even with vaccinated children older than five years of age, there seems to be hesitancy among parents. The Associated Press reports a recent survey suggests only one in five parents of young children would get their kids vaccinated immediately. Less than a third of children ages five to 11 have received the two-dose recommendation of COVID-19 vaccines, despite that age group being eligible for vaccines since November.

“I would say that most parents would who have been holding back, if you will, want to know about the long-term safety of these current vaccines,” Perl said. “And honestly, at this point, we think these vaccines are going to be extremely safe. And in fact, we think this technology is an important advancement in vaccines.”

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s talk a little bit about what FDA approval actually means. It has to go before this outside board. But what does this mean for that process?

Dr. Trish Perl: So what this means is that the FDA has viewed the data internally. Commonly, they actually reanalyze the data and they look at side effects and efficacy, and then they make a recommendation or they approve it to move forward. That then goes to the board that reviews all vaccine-related approvals.

And then after that it will go to a second board at the CDC that looks not only of efficacy and safety, but also puts it in the context of public health and makes recommendations commonly about schedules. They put it in a further sort of perspective of why is it important to do it instead population.

So that’s that sounds like a very long and convoluted process. How long before doctors can prescribe this and it can be administered?

These are very special times. So for the COVID vaccines, the rollouts are the approval processes have occurred over a week to two week periods. Normally that would be much longer than it currently is, but I expect that we’ll hear over the next week.

What about the fact that a lot of parents who can now get their kids over the age of five vaccinated seem to be hesitant? What does that bode for children under five? What are the expectations here?

I think we’re going to have a lot of the same types of questions that parents have. They always want to make sure that what they’re doing for their children is right and safe. And so they’re going to be looking very carefully at the data and looking to the recommendations of their pediatricians. And a lot of the hesitancy, I think, right now is that we need to improve our education with our providers so that they understand the pros and cons and importance of these vaccines.

What would be the cons if you’re a parent trying to weigh whether or not to do this, as a lot of parents have been? What are the valid concerns and considerations?

I would say that most parents who have been holding back want to know about the long-term safety of these vaccines. And so that’s really the primary concern. And honestly, at this point, we think these vaccines are going to be extremely safe. And in fact, we think this technology is an important advancement in vaccines.

We’re putting this in the context of the fact that we’re seeing COVID-19 cases increase across the state and the country. And we hear that the numbers we are seeing are likely an undercount, given the way that people are testing at home. Hospitalizations and deaths are remaining low. How do you see this next uptick in COVID-19 being managed from a public health standpoint? What precautions need to be taken at this juncture?

I still think that vaccination is going to be the cornerstone of us really getting ahead of this. What we need to do is get enough immunity and ongoing immunity over the long term. We may see in certain instances that we’re going to go back to masking and social distancing. And in fact, some individuals still do that because they don’t want to infect somebody at home, etc.. So there’s a variety of things that people can do, but I don’t expect us to see anything different than what’s been done in the past. We just may see it rolled out depending on the activity in different areas.