DHEC, local pediatrician weigh in on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine EUA request for children under 5

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Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 11:28 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Vaccine eligibility could soon be expanded to the last remaining group without approval: children younger than 5.

Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, requested emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for a two-dose regimen of its COVID-19 vaccine for this age group Tuesday, with research into whether a third dose would be more effective ongoing.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said that expanding vaccine eligibility to children ages 6 months to 5 years is an important step toward getting back to normal.

“I think of it almost as a little bit of the last piece of the vaccination puzzle,” she said.

The request from Pfizer comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations among children in South Carolina set multiple pandemic record-highs during the month of January.

RELATED | Pediatric COVID hospitalizations reach pandemic record in SC, Children’s Hospital Collaborative data shows

The pandemic peak of pediatric hospitalizations was 61 on January 20. Of those 61 hospitalizations, 26 were not yet eligible for the vaccine.

“This is the surge where we’ve seen several record number of days with hospitalizations of children,” Traxler said. “And it’s not infrequent that half or so of them are not eligible for vaccination based on age. And so if you vaccinate all those children, they are then therefore less likely to get infected, they’re much less likely to get hospitalized.”

She believes these numbers would go down if the vaccine for children under 5 were to be approved.

Columbia-based pediatrician Dr. Deborah Greenhouse said the Omicron variant has put these young children at particular risk.

“Omicron really did change the game for us,” she said. “It really put young children in the crosshairs. Because Omicron is so much more infectious than the previous variants of COVID, and we have kids in school settings, we have kids in daycare settings, we have young children under two who can’t wear masks, they were sort of sitting ducks when this came around.”

Greenhouse said parents ask her every day when the vaccine for this age group will be approved. She’s also hearing from parents with hesitations and some who say they have no intention of getting their children vaccinated.

For those eagerly awaiting FDA approval, she said it’s important to be patient and let the process play out.

Before shots can get into arms, the FDA must approve the authorization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will review additional data to determine the vaccine’s safety.

“We want to make sure that they do take a deep enough dive into this to make sure that it looks like approving the vaccine at this point is a good move,” Greenhouse said. “So even though a lot of parents would love to see this rushed through, I would have to take the approach of saying you don’t want to see this rushed through. We really want to make sure that it’s done right and that we are convinced that we’re making the right decision.”

Among the data that federal regulators are considering is whether a third dose would be needed for this age group.

“Ultimately, we believe that three doses of the vaccine will be needed for children 6 months through 4 years of age to achieve high levels of protection against current and potential future variants,” Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said. “If two doses are authorized, parents will have the opportunity to begin a COVID-19 vaccination series for their children while awaiting potential authorization of a third dose.”

As the FDA reviews data on these vaccines, Greenhouse’s best advice for parents: ensure that those around your young children are protected with vaccination.

Doctors believe the approval of this two-dose regimen could come as soon as mid-March.

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