The news that a smaller-dose Pfizer vaccine was reportedly safe for young people gave hope to Maine parents and school officials this week that schools may see fewer infections soon, keeping kids in class and activities.
The drugmakers announced Monday that smaller doses of its COVID-19 vaccine are safe for young people ages 5 to 11. The vaccines generated “robust” antibody immune responses in a clinical trial, according to the company.
The news brings some hope as the highly contagious delta variant has surged within school settings. After declining in early summer, there have been more than 925,000 documented COVID-19 cases nationwide among children in the last month, according to the American Association of Pediatrics.
Maine school officials and parents of young children have eagerly awaited the availability of the youth vaccine.
“It’s nice to have good news, isn’t it?” said Dr. Deborah Hagler, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Maine chapter in Brunswick. Hagler’s parents and patients have been “eagerly awaiting” a safe and effective vaccine for children, a feeling that has grown more urgent with recent surges.
“It was a press announcement from Pfizer so we’ll wait for the FDA to get their data and go through it, but it’s obviously really good news,” Hagler said.
Kendra Rand of Bar Harbor was “really pleased” to hear that Pfizer’s vaccine for children may soon be approved. Rand, 42, has two daughters in middle school.
“We’ve been white knuckling our way through the last few months in the hopes that they could get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Rand, a public speaking and communications instructor at the University of Maine in Orono.
The middle school and its extracurricular activities provide rich social lives for Rand’s kids. That’s a good thing, but these days it can raise concern. Reports of a few COVID-positive students in the school system have kept a steady reminder that the highly transmissible delta variant is a threat.
“It’s just really important that we protect them and also not limit the social activities and really important parts of school that our whole family relies on. It’s a difficult balance and anything we can do to protect them, we’re very ready to do that,” Rand said.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech plan to submit their data immediately to the Federal Drug Administration, which could take up to four weeks to approve the vaccine, public health experts said. The youth vaccine — which contains one-third of the dose given to those ages 12 and older — could be available by Halloween.
Severe illness is “uncommon among children” at this time, according to the AAP. Pfizer said in a statement that “there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”
Hagler, the Brunswick pediatrician, said that an FDA-approved vaccine could be a great help for families heading into winter.
“We saw that huge spike last year and it arrived right after the holidays in January. And we’re seeing a spike now,” Hagler said. “So I definitely am hopeful.”
If approved, it’s likely that Portland Public Schools will offer the vaccine to students at on-site vaccination clinics inside schools, said district spokesperson Tess Nacelowicz. But that hasn’t been determined yet. The district already holds weekly vaccination clinics at its high and middle schools. It began pooled testing in kindergarten through sixth grade this week for students with parental permission.
Emily Figdor, the chair of the Portland School Board, said that it was “urgent that we get all school-aged kids vaccinated so that they can be in school and with fewer disruptions to their learning and childhood.”
Figdor said she would get her 10-year-old daughter vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is made available.
“It’s been a long year and a half — especially for kids,” Figdor said.