A variety of studies by different reseaech groups have now confirmed that the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is safe for children between the ages of 5 and 11, and the vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalization due to SARS-CoV-2 infection (by the Omicron variant) by about two-thirds, or 68 percent. The multi-center study also indicated that the risk of hospitalization among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 was also reduced, although the vaccine was slightly less effective against the Omicron variant compared to the Delta variant.
The vaccine still helped prevent adolescents and children from needing life-supporting interventions if they did become infected with either Delta or Omicron; vaccinations reduced those interventions by 96 percent for Delta, and 79 percent for Omicron.
Writing in Science, Jeffrey S. Gerber, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Paul A. Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at CHOP, noted that many parents - an estimated 42 to 66 percent are reluctant to get their kids vaccinated. They added that COVID-19 is a childhood illness, regardless of popular perception. In the early days of the pandemic, kids made up about 3 percent of cases while they now account for 25 percent; tens of thousands of children have been hospitalized for COVID-19 even though about one-third of them had no preexisting condition. Over 700 American children have died from COVID-19, putting the virus among the top ten causes of death for children in the US, while the vaccine has not killed any children.
The authors also noted that myocarditis complications from the vaccine have been mild and rare, while cardiac complications from a SARS-CoV-2 infection can be serious and life-threatening. The viral infection also attacks multiple organs.
Vaccination can also help kids get back to participating in extracurricular activities and play time, which is essential for their development. They added that opting out of a vaccine is not a risk-free choice, "it’s a choice to take a different and more serious risk," they wrote.
The study results reported in the New England Journal of Medicine should reassure parents "that COVID-19 vaccination in eligible children and adolescents continues to protect against the most severe outcomes associated with COVID-19, regardless of variant type,” said study co-author Bria Coates, MD, critical care physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Assistant Professor at Northwestern University.
“It is difficult to predict whether the vaccine will be as effective against the current subvariant of Omicron, but most likely the level of protection would be similar. Our results reinforce the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, including receiving a booster dose for those ages 12 years and older, to protect against critical illness.”