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In the past few weeks, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to use the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5-11 years based on the recommendation of its independent Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC). The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) then recommended that children 5 to 11 years old be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine. The Center for Disease Control endorsed that recommendation. That may sound like a lot of red tape, but it is important to note that four expert groups gave their authorization or recommendation to use the Pfizer vaccine with children in this age group and for its immediate deployment.

“Cavalier County Health District (CCHD) is pleased to offer the parents of 5-11 years olds the opportunity to protect their children from COVID-19,” said Public Health Nurse Steph Welsh. “Vaccines are a safe and effective way to keep your children well.”

This is good news for children and their families. During the 6-week period from late June to mid-August, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased fivefold in the U.S. due to the spread of the Delta Variant. Because there is still so much COVID-19 transmission in the U.S., it’s now the seventh leading cause of death for children ages 5–11 and even higher than that for kids ages 12–18.

“Over 1.9 million cases, 8,300 hospitalizations and at least 94 deaths and have been reported in this age group as a result of COVID-19 infection,” said Welsh. “Preventing COVID illness is this age group is an important step in keeping children well, in school, and in activities.” CCHD has school-based clinics set for Munich and Langdon Elementary Schools for the week of November 15th. Watch for forms to be sent home from the schools.

If you want to have your child vaccinated in the CCHD office, call 256-2402 to add your child to the waiting list. Initially, this vaccine will be in limited supply, and they want to maximize the use of doses from the vials.

Vaccinating children will help protect them from getting COVID-19 therefore reducing their risk of hospitalizations, deaths, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), and long-term complications, such as “long COVID,” in which symptoms can linger for months.

“Vaccination in this age group has the added benefit of preventing disease spread to family members,” said Welsh. It is rare for a vaccinated person to infect others. People are much more likely to be infected by unvaccinated individuals. If kids are exposed to COVID-19 in school, they may accidentally expose their teachers, grandparents, or other high-risk individuals in their lives.

Many people are getting booster shots because there are still high levels of transmission of COVID-19 happening across the country. Currently, North Dakota is one of the worst states for COVID-19 transmission. Kids are part of that chain of transmission. Higher vaccination rates result in less transmission, fewer people getting sick, and fewer opportunities for the virus to mutate.

Similar to what was seen in adult vaccine trials, vaccination was nearly 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among children aged 5-11 years. Side effects were mild and similar to those seen in adults and with other vaccines recommended for children. The most common side effect was a sore arm.

COVID-19 vaccines have undergone – and will continue to undergo – the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history. Some vaccinations were created and made available for diseases that have far fewer deaths and hospitalizations than COVID-19. For example, Hepatitis A killed an average of 3 children per year before vaccines compared to COVID-19 that has killed an average of 66 children per year before vaccines.

COVID vaccine dosages are determined by the maturity of the immune system - a child’s age - not a child’s size or weight. Some children may be 11 years old when they get their first dose and 12 at the time of their second dose. They should receive a dose based on their age on the day of vaccination, according to the CDC. Also, the vaccination should not be delayed. If an 11-year-old has a birthday coming up, they should not wait for a higher dosage. Getting a vaccine as soon as possible is of the upmost importance.

The COVID-19 vaccine can be given at the same time as other routine vaccines but should be done in a different injection site.

Children should be vaccinated even if they do not have any underlying health conditions. 32% of children hospitalized with COVID-19 infections did not have underlying health conditions. Children with a prior COVID-19 infection should still get vaccinated. Clinical trials in children show that vaccines can be given safely to those with evidence of a prior COVID-19 infection.

An estimated 38% of children aged 5–11 years have detectable antibodies from natural infection, which is higher than estimated antibodies in adults. However, natural immunity protection is random. Some people will mount a strong protection, some people won’t, and there is no way to predict it. In addition, natural immunity protection is known to last 8 months (maybe more) for some people, but for others, protection wanes within weeks.

Getting a vaccination after having COVID-19 increases your protection from subsequent infection, including more infectious variants. The risk of reinfection is two to five times higher when relying on natural immunity as opposed to the risk of reinfection with vaccine protection.

CDC Director Dr.  Rochelle P. Walensky stated, “Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19. As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”

Information for this article came from the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina.

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