So how effective are COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11?
There is emerging data suggesting that protection against infection decreases for vaccinated children in this age group. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise, some experts say, since vaccination series without a booster dose have generally been less effective in protecting against infection with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, compared with earlier strains, and children in this age group are not eligible for a booster.
Promising new data
The good news is that recent data, a New York State Department of Health study that has not been peer-reviewed, and a report published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC for its acronym), stress that COVID-19 vaccines for children protect against serious illness and hospitalization.
“The main finding is that the antigens are highly protective against Omicron hospitalizations for children aged 5 to 11 years. That and their remarkable safety is why parents should widely adopt them to support their children and families. [y] contacts protected from serious illness,” Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, wrote in an email. “We knew that vaccines don’t work well against Omicron infections, and both reports reinforced that finding.”
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of infectious diseases in the department of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, explained that much more important in determining the usefulness of an antigen is its effectiveness against serious illness and hospitalization, not for prevent runny nose caused by COVID-19.
“It would be nice to stop every runny nose. But that is not globally important at the moment. What we need to prevent is people being hospitalized, being put on ventilators and dying. And we need to stop overcrowding our hospitals, so people don’t go in and die of heart attacks or strokes because they can’t get a bed,” said Maldonado, who helped run clinical trials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children at Stanford. .
Although children are less likely to be hospitalized than adults, COVID-19 is still causing a high enough level of death that the pandemic is considered a leading cause of death in children. More than 1,500 children as young as 17 have died from coronavirus across the country, including 61 in California.
Los Angeles County on Thursday reported its 10th pediatric death from COVID-19, in a teenager. “This, like all deaths related to the coronavirus, is a tragic loss that will have a profound impact on the family and friends of this child,” said the director of Public Health, Bárbara Ferrer.
Orange County has reported five pediatric deaths from COVID-19; three have occurred since December, including two children who were previously in good health: one under the age of 5 who was not eligible for vaccination and a 17-year-old who refused to be inoculated and died from COVID-related multi-system inflammatory syndrome .
“I have seen children with ventilators. I have seen children who have been incredibly sick from this virus,” Maldonado said.
Most hospitalized children are not inoculated, health officials in Southern California stressed. The deaths of children from COVID-19 are especially tragic because that age group is not supposed to have high death rates for any reason.
“Yes, three-quarters of all deaths have occurred in people over the age of 65 so far. But children are not supposed to die,” Maldonado said. “In proportional terms, COVID deaths are among the top 10 causes of death in children, because they are not supposed to die. Not in this world, not in the United States, in 2022.”
Low vaccination rates
Health experts have been concerned about the low uptake of the vaccine in children ages 5 to 11. Just over a quarter of children in the United States are fully inoculated, while 58% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 are. In California, less than a third of children are fully vaccinated, compared to 65% of adolescents.
In Los Angeles County, the areas where inoculation rates are below the county average (29%), for the 5-11 age group, are in low-income areas, such as the Northeast Valley San Fernando, Antelope Valley, South Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles County, and the Eastside. Areas with higher-than-average vaccination rates include wealthier areas like Malibu, the Hollywood Hills, the southern San Fernando Valley, the West Side, and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
The CDC report showed data that found vaccine effectiveness against hospitalizations when Delta or Omicron were dominant was 74% for children ages 5 to 11. Of the 23 fully inoculated children in this age group whose records were available, two were hospitalized, while 262 unvaccinated children, and 59 were hospitalized.
Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization was initially 92% for children 12 to 15 years old, and 94% if they were 16 to 17 years old, in approximately five months after completion of the primary inoculation series. After that time, it dropped to 73% for 12-15 year olds and 88% for 16-17 year olds, still respectable figures.
The New York data, which analyzes information from December 13 to January 30, detailed that the effectiveness of the antigen against any type of infection for people aged 5 to 11 years fell from 68% to only 12%, and for people ages 12 to 17, it dropped from 66% to 51%. Still, “our data support the vaccine’s protection against serious illness among children aged 5 to 11 years,” the authors of the New York study wrote.
“Overall, both studies show that antigens work: They don’t prevent infections incredibly well, but we never thought they would prevent all infections. What we were looking for was to prevent hospitalizations and deaths. And they do,” Maldonado emphasized. “Studies found the vaccines to be safe, and we know they kept children from being hospitalized during a major surge.”
Maldonado added that she and other antigen experts expected there to be a decline in immunity from COVID-19 vaccines, so the future question to ask is when boosters would be a good idea and under what circumstances.
“There is a reason why we get colds over and over again; there’s a reason we get the flu over and over again: Respiratory viruses are notorious for not providing long-lasting immunity,” Maldonado said.
What the emerging data shows is that, at least for adults and older children, some months after the primary vaccination series, “you’re going to need a booster while there’s ongoing active transmission.”
“Now, are we going to need a backup if Omicron goes down and we don’t see a lot of virus going around? We may be able to wait a bit with another reinforcement,” Maldonado said. “But I do think that at some point we will need another dose. I just don’t know when that will be.”
Determining the ideal immunization schedules for children is more complicated than for adults because children’s bodies can function in dramatically different ways.
Scientists may suggest that children aged 5 to 11 years will need a booster and then make adjustments to the primary vaccination series, such as changing the interval between doses or the amount of the dose.
Associated Press contributed to this article.
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