Vaccines for Young Kids?

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Today, we’re covering a coming fight over vaccines for young children, test-to-stay programs and social media advice for parents.

Will parents vaccinate their kids?

Pfizer and BioNTech say their coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective in children from 5 to 11. The shots could be available to young children around Halloween, my colleague Apoorva Mandavilli reports.

For some parents, emergency authorization from the F.D.A. cannot come soon enough. But others are hesitant, my colleagues Sarah Mervosh and Dana Goldstein report.

Only about 40 percent of children ages 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated, compared with 66 percent of adults, according to federal data. Polling indicates that parental openness to vaccination decreases with a child’s age.

Even some vaccinated parents don’t intend to inoculate their kids immediately, in part because of the relatively small size of children’s trials.

One vaccinated mother in California said that she thought the potential risk seemed to her to outweigh the benefit, because young children have been far less likely than adults to become seriously sick.

A reader from Greenwich, Conn., is also waiting.

“This is good news,” the reader commented on Apoorva’s article, “but as I did with my 13-year-old, I’ll let a few million other little ones get vaccinated, with any rare side effects reported, before I get my 10-year-old vaccinated.”

Nationally, a pediatric vaccine would be a game changer for broader vaccination efforts. There are about 28 million children age 5 to 11 in the U.S., far more than the 17 million of ages 12 to 15 who became eligible for Pfizer’s vaccine in May.

And the need is urgent: Children now account for more than one in five new cases, and more have been hospitalized in the past few weeks than at any other time in the pandemic.

But without widespread vaccine requirements in schools, it remains to be seen how many parents will voluntarily sign up their children.

Alone among major districts, Los Angeles has mandated shots for all students 12 and older. On Monday, Washington, D.C., announced a softer requirement: All adults who are regularly in schools and child care centers, and all eligible student-athletes, must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.

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Los Angeles, though, has a remote schooling option, and students don’t need to play sports to graduate. Districts without remote learning for the general population, like New York City and Chicago, have few options if parents refuse vaccines.

More on the science:

Trial details: Pfizer’s trial included 2,268 children ages 5 to 11. Two-thirds received two doses three weeks apart; the rest had placebos.

Trial results: Vaccinated children produced antibody levels comparable to those seen in earlier participants, who were 16 to 25. The younger children could achieve similar results with a smaller dose of the vaccine.

Hospitalization data: In August, nearly 30,000 children were hospitalized for Covid. The least-vaccinated states reported the highest rates.

A new way to keep children in school

Districts across the U.S. are embracing “test-to-stay” protocols, which try to limit quarantines for students who have been exposed to the virus.

For seven days, before school starts, close contacts of the infected child take a coronavirus test. If they have no symptoms and a negative test result, they can head to class.

One district, Marietta, Ga., began a test-to-stay policy in September, more than a month after school started. Before that, from Aug. 3 to Aug. 20, 51 positive tests sent nearly 1,000 people into quarantine. “That’s a lot of school, especially for children that are recovering from 18 months in a pandemic,” Grant Rivera, the superintendent, said.

Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

    • Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
    • Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
    • College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
    • Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.  
    • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
    • New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
    • At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

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