Local Infectious Disease Expert Reflects On New COVID Vaccination Policy For Children

By: Ana Altchek, Follow South Jersey Contributing Writer

SOUTH JERSEY – The CDC recommended the COVID vaccine for children as young as six months old through four years old on June 18. This represents the last age group to get approval for the drug.

For many parents, this represents a monumental moment that will allow them peace of mind regarding their child’s safety in school and daycare as institutions and workplaces return back to being in-person. Up until now, young infants and toddlers have had no guaranteed protection against the virus. Even though the effects are mild within the age group, much of the virus remains unknown and there have been rare but severe cases of children affected. 

In fact, when the Omicron surge was peaking, New Jersey Health Commissioner, Judy Persichilli said that there were four pediatric deaths in the state in December, three of them being infants. 

Thus, even though this may seem like a relief for parents of young children, a Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that most parents are not quite eager to get their young ones vaccinated. In fact, only 18% of parents feel ready to vaccinate their children right away and 38% plan to wait to see how it works for others. 

Mark Condoluci, DO, Infectious Disease Specialist with Jefferson Health – New Jersey, said that he thinks parents’ concerns should be understood. He also recommends parents discuss the decision with their family provider to determine the best approach for their child. 

Given that young children took so long to get approval, it’s reasonable that parents feel hesitant to give the vaccine to their children right away. Condoluci says that there were multiple reasons for this delay though.

Firstly, vaccinations are focused primarily on those at risk of becoming severely ill from the virus, which remained the adult and immunocompromised populations. Since children rarely became severely ill from the virus, they weren’t a priority for getting the vaccine approved.

Additionally, recruitment of children into clinical trials have particular barriers, including parent approval. Thus, testing out the vaccine on children took longer than the rest of the population since there were limited population samples. 

Condoluci also adds that children’s immune systems may differ at various ages, which may explain why there were multiple groups of vaccine approval within the under-18 age range. Thus, he says that variations may be embedded in assuring appropriate immunity from vaccination in a population that has different immune systems. 

Even though parents may have anxiety regarding the unknown of the vaccine, Condoluci reminds parents that there exists equal concern with the virus itself. 

“Potential downsides would include the possible, although rare, chance of a child having a severe consequence from the virus,” Condoluci says. “One concern I would carry, and I do not think we have the entirety of information here to date, is that of ‘Long COVID’ and how consequential it may be in children.”

When it comes to his professional opinion on the matter, Condoluci expresses support and encouragement for vaccinating children under five years old. 

“I think it would be a reasonable pursuit to vaccinate your child should a parent have the opportunity,” Condoluci says. 

Condoluci raises the point that although the vaccine benefits individuals, it also represents a service to the population. 

The Lancet recently published a study that during the time frame of December 8, 2020, and December 8, 2021, the vaccine prevented 14.4 million deaths in 185 countries and territories. When using excess deaths as an estimate of the true extent of the pandemic, this number rose to 19.8 million. Assuming these numbers are accurate, the vaccine reduced total global deaths by 63%.

For more information on community vaccine events and nearby sites, visit https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/vaccine. Also, continue to FollowSouthJersey or go to Vaccine United website to receive the latest information on COVID updates and happenings in the local area. 

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