Breanna Reeves |

On Tuesday, an expert committee that advises the Food and Drug Administration voted in favor of emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. 

This recommendation came after the FDA’s public session that discussed the benefits and potential risks of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine as it relates to children ages 5 to 11. FDA advisers voted 17-0 (1 abstained) in favor of authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for this age group. 

Data released by Pfizer-BioNTech showed that a lower two-dose vaccination is safe for children ages 5 to 11 and is 90.7% percent effective “against symptomatic illness from the virus.”

On October 1 Governor Newsom announced COVID-19 vaccine requirements for in-person school attendance, a decision that made California the first state in the U.S. to do so. The coronavirus vaccination will be required along with traditional vaccine requirements for the measles, mumps, and more. The mandate is expected to apply to grades 7-12 beginning on July 1, 2022.

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19,” said Governor Newsom in a press release. “Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

While California leads as the state with the lowest number of COVID-19 cases, Governor Newsom’s mandate has received push back from those who are vaccine hesitant, anti-vaccination, and parents who do not want to vaccinate their children.

Supporters of Stand Up Riverside hold signs and protest vaccine mandates for children. (Photo courtesy of Instagram)

During a Riverside Unified School District board meeting last week, parents and members of Stand-Up Riverside, a local organization that opposes vaccine mandates, addressed the school board regarding a potential mandate in the district.

One speaker referred to the vaccine mandate for children as “unnecessary and experimental” and suggested that the district could see an exodus of at least 30 percent of their students if a vaccine mandate is enforced. Another parent suggested that she would not hesitate to enroll her children in private school if the district enforces COVID-19 vaccinations.

According to the FDA Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee Meeting briefing document, Pfizer’s study concluded that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks for use in children 5 to 11 years of age. Pfizer’s research noted potential risks of Myocarditis, a heart condition that was seen in some individuals who were vaccinated with Pfizer and Moderna. This reaction is more common in young males and is usually mild.

The Delta variant continues to be the leading strain, comprising 99 percent of the tested strains in the U.S. where COVID-19 cases among children ages 5 to 11 make up 39 percent of cases among children younger than 18 years old, according to the briefing.

“While children and adolescents appear less susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and generally have a milder COVID-19 disease course as compared with adults, adolescents and adults have similar SARS-CoV-2 viral loads in their nasopharynx, so adolescents may play a role in community transmission,” the document noted. “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 virus from children can occur in both household and school settings.”

Pfizer-BioNTech proposes giving children 5 to 11 years of age only one-third of the dose given to adults and individuals aged 12 to 15 in a two-dose regimen. 

Dr. David Lo, Senior Associate Dean of Research and Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences at UC Riverside, participated in a Q&A last month regarding vaccines among school-aged children. Dr. Lo noted that initially COVID infections were lower in children when there was only one strain.

“This difference is getting less prominent with the spread of the Delta variant, as more and more children are getting hospitalized with severe disease and also dying,” said Dr. Lo in the article. “We need to be vigilant as newer variants continue to emerge due to the high numbers of unvaccinated across the country and around the world, allowing for more mutation. Some of the new variants may turn out to be even more deadly to children.”

The San Bernardino County Vaccination Dashboard displays the number of residents who are vaccinated. The county reports that 43 percent of children under the age of 17 are vaccinated. (San Bernardino County Public Health)

More than 50,000 children under the age of 18 have been reported as contracting COVID in Riverside County, according to Riverside University Health System. Across the county, 43.9 percent of children 12 to 15 years old are vaccinated and 52.5 percent of 16-to-17-year olds are vaccinated. In San Bernardino County, 43 percent of children 12 to 17 years old are vaccinated.

Following the expert committee’s vote, the FDA will consider the recommendation and decide to extend the vaccine to children ages 5 to 11. The final decision will come from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in the upcoming weeks.

“Just to reassure the committee, because we are taking an emergency use authorization rather than an approval, in general, although it’s possible that mandates could be put in place, I suppose, in general people have not done mandates with emergency use authorizations, and there are certain governors who have already announced that they would not do a mandate until there was an approval as opposed to an emergency use authorization,” Dr. Peter Marks, head of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said after the vote.

Header photo photo by CDC on Unsplash

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America...