The Atlantic Daily: What Comes Next for Kid Vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines for kids could arrive as early as next week. To help you prepare, we answer five practical questions.

Bridgette Melo, 5, holds the hand of her father, Jim Melo, during her inoculation of one of two reduced 10 ug doses of the Pfizer BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine during a trial at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina September 28, 2021 in a still image from video. Video taken September 28, 2021.
Shawn Rocco / Duke University / Reuters

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COVID-19 vaccines for kids could arrive as early as next week. To help you prepare, we answer five practical questions.

Pfizer’s vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds has cleared the first of four hurdles on the road to a widespread rollout, and a full green light could come as early as next week. I caught up with our staff writer Katherine J. Wu to ask a few practical questions about how things might work.

The conversation that follows has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What might vaccinating kids do to COVID-19 transmission rates overall?

Just over half the country is fully vaccinated, and that’s not nearly enough to get transmission down to where it needs to be, especially with the more transmissible Delta variant around.

Having kids vaccinated means there’ll be fewer places for the virus to set up shop and travel to other people, including adults who haven’t yet gotten vaccinated or who might not be fully protected by their shots. So certainly, the hope is that vaccinating kids will have huge community-level benefits.

If the shots are approved, are kids likely to get temporarily knocked out by theirs, just as many adults were after their second dose?

It is going to be reasonable for parents to expect some side effects. That said, there is some notion that side effects do tend to track with the amount of vaccine that we’re giving to people—and we’re giving kids, in this case, a third of the adult dose.

How should parents think about the rare, more serious side effects?

Probably the most important one to talk about here is myocarditis, or inflammation of heart tissue, which does appear to be linked to both mRNA vaccines. It’s rare overall, but it tends to appear in younger men and boys in their late teens and early 20s.

Pfizer presented data to the FDA that showed, in a trial of thousands of kids in the 5-to-11 age group, that they didn’t detect any cases of myocarditis. That’s great, but it was also a small trial. And remember: This is a really, really rare side effect. In a trial of that size, you probably wouldn’t expect to get a really reliable signal of how common myocarditis is. It could be not common at all; it could be as common as it is in the teenage group. We don’t have definitive answers.

That said, the FDA ran a risk-benefit analysis [for giving the vaccine to this age group]. And even assuming that myocarditis appears at the same frequency as it does in older children, the benefits still far outweigh the risks.

How will people be able to get the vaccine for their kids once approved?

The Biden administration has very consciously shuttled this vaccine to places where it will be easy for parents to take their kids to get it, such as pediatrician’s offices, pharmacies, and schools. The White House purchased tens of millions of doses—enough to fully vaccinate this entire age group. And they made about 15 million of those doses available to states to preorder.

In theory, if all the logistics go smoothly, parents should be able to start getting first doses to their kids within a couple days of CDC Director Rochelle Walensky giving her official recommendation, which is expected next week.

What about kids under 5?

Pfizer has said they’re trying to get those data submitted by the end of the calendar year. If they’re still on track to do that, the FDA will review them and then go through this whole rigmarole again.

For more on the state of kid vaccines, read Katie’s recent interview with a pediatric expert.

Have other questions you’d like answered? Talk with us.

The rest of the news in three sentences:

(1) Democrats are still working out how they’ll finance the proposals in the big new social-spending bill—and trying to finalize it before President Joe Biden departs for Europe tomorrow. (2) A storm left more than half a million homes and businesses without power in the Northeast. (3) A top U.S. general described China’s recent weapons test as being close to a “Sputnik moment.”

Today’s Atlantic-approved activity:

Scroll through some award-winning photography featuring extremely tiny subjects.

A break from the news:

Photos are too flattering now.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.