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Today is a milestone in the way on the availability of COVID vaccines for children. The FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Panel, VRBPAC, agreed that the benefits outweigh the risks for the new vaccine only for children by Pfizer for children ages 5-11.

The vaccine will be at a lower dose than the standard Pfizer version, which is available for adults and adolescents. It’s still a two-dose streak, with three weeks between doses.

Soon the FDA should officially authorize the vaccine for children, and then the ball will go to the CDC, whose ACIP advisory panel will meet on November 2-3 to make recommendations on who should receive the vaccine. That means you can likely get an injection in your child’s arm shortly afterwards – that is, early November. (We have more information on the process and schedule here.)

Does vaccination make sense for children in this age group?

The advisory board members seemed divided on whether the vaccine should be approved for all children or only for those at highest risk. In the end, they voted to approve for all, but the CDC may decide to make a closer recommendation.

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The biggest risk they discussed was the possibility of heart conditions such as myocarditis and pericarditis, which have occasionally emerged in teenagers and young men after vaccination. This condition is rare but serious. Those who were concerned about the risk pointed out that COVID is usually not severe in children, so the benefits may only outweigh the risks in children at higher risk.

On the other hand, myocarditis as a vaccine complication has not killed anyone, while 94 children have died of COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. We also do not know whether younger children taking the pediatric vaccine dose are at the same risk of myocarditis as older children taking the standard dose.

When it comes to the benefits of the vaccine, it can be seen that COVID doesn’t usually hit kids hard. One estimate presented at the advisory panel meeting is that 40% of children in this age group may already be immune. Of those hospitalized with COVID, about two-thirds had some prior health, so there may not be much to be gained from vaccinating healthy children.

On the other side of this problem are the 94 deaths. That’s a small number, but a lot more than zero. COVID is currently the eighth leading cause of death among children in this age group. (Fortunately, child deaths are rare.) Preventing infection in children could help protect more vulnerable family members, and it could also prevent COVID for a long time and allow more children to return to personal school.

Personally, the benefits as a parent seem to outweigh the risks for my healthy children. But I will be paying close attention to the CDC panel discussion next week, and knowing what pediatricians think is also important. Hold on for more.