If approved, experts see benefits of Pfizer COVID kids vaccine in CT

Photo of Nicholas Rondinone
Students including Ann Taylor get vaccinated at the Norwalk Public Schools COVID vaccine clinic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in the Norwalk Community Health Center mobile unit at West Rocks Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn.

Students including Ann Taylor get vaccinated at the Norwalk Public Schools COVID vaccine clinic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in the Norwalk Community Health Center mobile unit at West Rocks Elementary School in Norwalk, Conn.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

Pfizer-BioNTech inched closer to universal vaccine eligibility Thursday, asking the Food and Drug Administration to approve the use of its COVID vaccine on children age 5 to 11.

The much-anticipated move comes in a process closely watched by Connecticut officials and medical experts following a full-time return to school for children this fall.

“We are very excited about the possibility. We look forward to the FDA reviewing the submitted information,” said Dr. Tom Murray, associate medical director at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.

The question of whether Pfizer-BioNTech gets the approval for emergency use will likely not be answered for several weeks. The FDA intends to meet on the matter on Oct. 26.

Meanwhile, cases continue to mount in school districts across the state in the first weeks of the academic year. In the past week, the state recorded 506 COVID cases among students, and another 95 among staff. Of those student cases, 422 involved children who were not vaccinated.

“Anytime you have areas that children congregate, there’s the potential for increased spread of COVID infections … this vaccine will provide an excellent level of prevention,” Murray said.

For eligible school-aged children, vaccine rates have steadily increased through the end of the summer and early September. As of Thursday, 69 percent of children age 12 to 15 were vaccinated and 79 percent of those age 16 and 17 were vaccinated, state data shows.

Late last month, Pfizer announced its trials showed that children age 5 to 11 saw “robust neutralizing antibody responses” after receiving two doses of the vaccine. Unlike with other age groups, the trial utilized a dose about one-third the amount administered to adults.

Considering the data from the trials, the company on Thursday asked the FDA to approve the emergency use of the vaccine for these children.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer for Hartford HealthCare, said any additional vaccine in the community would further help to prevent outbreaks and get society closer to herd immunity. But he cautioned that the FDA needs time to review the data.

“If approval occurs, it’s a positive sign, but we will have to see what the FDA decides,” Kumar said.

Administering vaccines for these children would likely rely heavily on pediatricians and their offices, instead of mass vaccination sites that were widely used early in the vaccine rollout.

"We do see the pediatric offices needing to play an essential role,” Dr. James Cardon, chief clinical integration officer for Hartford HealthCare, said during a virtual press conference Thursday. "We are facilitating the storage and some of the complexity — the logistics around vaccines for our clinicians ... we do think it's going to be important and different than adults."

Though these students have returned to schools without vaccines, officials have been using measures, including masking, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

“Many parents are looking forward to FDA review and approval. The data shows promising results in terms of protection for the children in this age group. This will allow for a more normal in-classroom experience, which has a significant long-term impact,” said Dr. Corina Marc, St. Vincent’s Medical Center’s associate vice president of medical affairs.

Gov. Ned Lamont has extended requirements for students and school staff to wear masks indoors through mid-February in response to the prevalence of the delta variant, a highly transmissible strain of COVID-19.

Last month, Lamont said he hoped federal regulators would approve doses for these children by the end of October.

“That’ll mean that we can start getting young people in our schools vaccinated,” Lamont said. “And that may mean we can take a second look at our protocols, as time goes on.”