After months of delays, children under 5 are set to get vaccines next week.
The F.D.A. and the C.D.C. are expected to clear Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines for young children in the next few days. An F.D.A. panel recommended authorization of both vaccines on Wednesday.
Vaccines for young children were delayed because neither company submitted the full data needed for the F.D.A. to authorize them, a top agency official previously implied. The White House adviser Anthony Fauci also suggested at one point that the F.D.A. had wanted to wait to consider both vaccines simultaneously because it feared that authorizing them at different times could confuse parents. (This newsletter has criticized the government’s mixed messaging.)
But now, any parent — and kid — who has been waiting for the vaccines can finally see the endpoint. That is potentially a big group: Nearly 20 million children are under 5 in the U.S. In some cases, the wait has taken a toll, as parents have held up their careers and lives, not to mention the lives of their children, to stay as safe from Covid as possible until a vaccine is available.
Parents described the wait in brutal terms to The Times, my colleagues Sharon LaFraniere and Emily Erdos reported: “Nearly lost my job and my mind.” “Halved my income.” “The hardest time in my life.” “I feel helpless and hopeless.” “Extremely lonely; I’m tearing up as I’m writing this.” “Every cough sets me on edge.”
A social shift
In one way, the vaccines’ authorizations will be big news: It means everyone in the U.S. who will ever be eligible for a Covid vaccine will be able to get one. (The shots will not be available for babies under 6 months old, but that is typical for many vaccines.)
The authorizations could set off ripple effects across American life. More parents could decide to return to offices. Day cares and schools may be able to ease quarantine and isolation rules. More young children will be able to play with friends and partake in sports or other activities without a mask.
While the vaccines reduce the risk of severe outcomes for kids, they may not change much about the trajectory of Covid hospitalizations and deaths. Even without the shots, children are overall at little risk of severe outcomes from Covid. The soon-to-be-eligible age group has made up less than 0.1 percent of confirmed Covid deaths in the U.S.
There is also a lot of hesitancy among parents about the shots. Only one in five parents of children under 5 plan to vaccinate a child right away, a recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found.
Part of that could be the dynamic we saw with Covid vaccines for adults: Many people want to wait and see how the vaccines work in others before they get the shots for themselves or their loved ones.
But some parents’ deep concern about Covid may have dissipated as the virus’s impact in broader American life has diminished. And many parents may think the vaccines are not needed because children are at low risk of severe Covid.
The bottom line
Vaccines for young kids may not do much to truly end the pandemic, even as the shots help more people get back to normal. Preventing the worst of the pandemic still comes down to protecting the most vulnerable, especially the elderly and the immunocompromised. Doing that means not just administering more vaccines and boosters, but also ensuring broad access to the antiviral Paxlovid, the preventive medication Evusheld and other treatments.
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P.S. The Watergate break-in occurred 50 years ago today.