With COVID-19 vaccine for children on horizon, questions remain about school requirements

With COVID-19 vaccine for children on horizon, questions remain about school requirements

October 18, 2021 0 By Andrew Hensel

Pfizer has asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the use of its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, but Illinois lawmakers have shown little appetite so far for a vaccine requirement for students.

If authorized, the vaccine would be available for children ages 5 to 11 for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Children could begin getting the shot in the coming months.

The Pfizer vaccine was first made available in December 2020 and was only available for people older than 16. Studies have shown that children have been safer from COVID-19 than adults. However, students are missing time from school due to contracting COVID-19 or because of close contact with someone who has tested positive.

Dr. Don Brown, a pediatrician with Northwestern Medicine, said that if authorized, it could ease concerns about having students in school.

“Right now there is a lot of parental nervousness,” Brown said. “If this works out and everything goes well, then parents naturally will feel better about sending their kids back to school and keeping them there.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker was asked earlier this month if he plans to follow California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lead in mandating the vaccine for school children in Illinois.

“That’s not something that we’re looking at doing,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker’s office didn’t respond when asked why the governor is not looking at mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for school children. Pritzker previously issued an executive order requiring front-line state workers, educators and college students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing.

Brown said that based on the success of vaccines in adults, he would expect the same for kids.

“The fact that it has been relatively safe with the older group, leads me to believe it will be just as safe for children who receive it,” he said.

If the FDA authorizes the use of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, Illinois lawmakers and school districts could face difficult decisions about vaccine rules and policies for students. Illinois has more than 850 school districts that are governed by locally-elected school boards. Before the start of the school year, Pritzker issued a statewide mask mandate in schools at a time when many local school boards were grappling with decisions about mask requirements.

Brown said that with or without a mandate, many parents will be lining up to get their children vaccinated.

“Whether it’s mandated or strongly suggested will obviously be a little bit of a conflict,” Brown said. “In my practice, in my dealings with parents, most, if not all of them, are excited about the vaccine coming out.”

Pfizer has said it would change how it gives the children the vaccine compared to how it gives adults the vaccine. Pfizer says its research shows that kids should get a third of the dose given to everyone else. After their second dose, the 5 to 11-year-olds developed virus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teens and young adults get from regular-strength shots, the company said.

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