COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 5 is 'a big deal,' doctors say
Local doctors are hopeful demand for COVID-19 vaccinations will spike once again after Moderna officials announced Thursday they are seeking emergency authorization from federal regulators to inoculate children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.
"This is a big deal for this age group and their parents," said Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control and prevention at Edward Hospital in Naperville. "It will be interesting to see how quickly vaccination rates in this age group grow."
Authorization could come some time next month, public health officials have said.
Currently, only children ages 5 or older can be vaccinated in the U.S., using rival Pfizer's vaccine, leaving 18 million younger tots unprotected.
Illinois is home to about 760,000 children under the age of 5, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That's roughly 6% of the state's population.
Uptake of the vaccine has been slower among younger age groups in Illinois, however. According to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Illinois Department of Public Health, a little more than 400,000 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been fully vaccinated since it was authorized in October of 2021. That's roughly 36% of that age group.
"My son just turned 5 and got his Pfizer (shot), otherwise we would be first in line," said Joanna Milano, of Carol Stream. "So happy for the families with younger kids if this happens."
Statewide, 68.7% of the state's 12.7 million residents are considered fully vaccinated, according to CDC figures.
"I think we'll see demand like we've had in the past for adults and some children," said Dr. Nimmi Rajagopal, associate chair of family and community medicine for Cook County Health. "There is a part of the population that is just eager to get it and will get it as soon as it's available, there's a part that's on the fence and will wait a few months, and then another part that's not going to get it."
Rajagopal said she would inoculate her 3-year-old son as soon as the vaccine is available to him.
"I have been incredibly cautious and been very, very, very fortunate to have alternatives to putting him in school," she said. "I've held off on school until he was vaccinated."
Moderna officials say trials with about 6,700 children using two doses a quarter the size of the adult version showed lower efficacy in those kids as the initial vaccine did for adults.
The low doses of the vaccine proved between about 40% and 50% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 during the trial, Moderna officials said. They blamed the omicron variant's ability to partially evade vaccine immunity, noting that unboosted adults showed similarly less effectiveness against milder omicron infections. While no children became severely ill during the study, officials also noted high antibody levels are a proxy for protection against more serious illness -- and the company will test a child booster dose.
There were no serious side effects, and the shots triggered fewer fevers than other routine vaccinations, according to reports submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Moderna's vaccine isn't the only one in the race. Pfizer is soon expected to announce if three of its even smaller-dose shots work for the littlest kids, months after the discovery that two doses weren't quite strong enough.
The child-size doses will be distributed to pediatricians and pharmacy chains across the country, public health officials said. It is likely the doses could be delivered ahead of federal approval so they will be available as soon as the FDA and CDC sign off on use.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.