Experts see advisory panel’s recommendation for ages 5-11 as good news everyone
Local medical experts are applauding a Food and Drug Administration panel’s support for emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5-11.
And Santa Barbara County is ready to administer the shots once final approval comes and the vaccines become available, Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county public health officer, told the News-Press Wednesday.
“We are all geared up,” Dr. Ansorg said. “When we have the vaccine at hand, it will be distributed to pharmacies and pediatricians. It will be a quick roll out.
“The dose is a third of the adult dose. Studies have shown the lower dose is very efficient in producing an immune response in children and lessens the frequency of side effects,” Dr. Ansorg said.
Side effects for the COVID-19 vaccines have typically been soreness, fever, fatigue and headaches for one or two days.
“That means the vaccine is doing its job,” Dr. Ansorg said.
He praised the results of Pfizer-BioNTech’s research, which shows a 90.7% effectiveness for the vaccine. Of more than 2,200 elementary school children who were tested, three in the group receiving the vaccine tested positive for COVID-19, while 16 in the group getting a placebo got a positive test.
If the approval process continues in the vaccine’s favor, shots could become available as early as next week.
The next step is for approval by Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock. Then a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee would review the vaccine and the question of whether the vaccine should be given to all children ages 5-11 or just those with health risks.
Dr. Fitzgibbons noted the FDA panel is asking the CDC committee to review the data carefully and determine who in the 5-11 age group should get. “That’s an important question.
“I think it’s likely that most children would benefit from this,” she said. “It’s most likely the CDC will have a more universal recommendation for 5 through 11 years old.
“It’s likely to be a more universal approach, based on the data I’ve reviewed,” she said.
The CDC panel, whose official name is Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, is scheduled to meet Nov. 2. Final approval by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky could come within hours of the committee’s approval.
“Having seen the literature and the low side effects frequency, I can’t imagine they will not approve it,” Dr. Ansorg said.
His colleagues in the medical community shared his enthusiasm.
“I think it’s wonderful news,” Dr. Charles Fenzi, CEO and chief medical officer of Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics, told the News-Press Wednesday.
He also praised Pfizer for demonstrating its vaccine’s effectiveness and safety. No one in a clinical trial of more than 2,200 elementary school children developed symptoms of myocarditis, a very rare side effect among young men getting the vaccine.
Pfizer’s data shows the risk for myocarditis is less among ages 5-11, Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, chair of the infectious diseases division at Cottage Health, told the News-Press Wednesday. (Cottage Health is the nonprofit company that oversees Cottage hospitals in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Solvang.)
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that the information we have about children is based on a big and robust clinical trial,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said. “The information so far is reassuring about myocarditis.”
Dr. Fenzi noted the vaccines for ages 5-11 will protect not only children but those around them.
In other words, if children don’t get COVID-19, they won’t give it to their parents, teachers or vulnerable populations such as their grandparents, he said.
Dr. Ansorg concurred. “Even if a child catches COVID and doesn’t get seriously ill, they can transmit the virus further to Grandma, who has chemotherapy for cancer. Even if she is vaccinated, she will not have a robust immune system and can catch COVID from the grandchild.
“From a bigger perspective, the public health perspective, that age group (ages 5-11) is almost 10 percent of the population,” Dr. Ansorg said. “That is a big chunk of susceptible victims for the virus. Even if they don’t get horribly sick, they still can spread it to other susceptible people.”
He described the vaccine for ages 5-11 as a benefit for the entire population.
When asked about statistics for ages 5-11, Dr. Ansorg said there have been few COVID-19 cases and few COVID-related hospitalizations in Santa Barbara County.
“But we have seen more infections and more severe illness in children than previously,” he said. “Nationwide, there have been 100 deaths in that age group due to COVID.
“The vaccine is an important part of keeping children healthy.”