Does a Child’s Weight Matter for the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Children ages 5 to 11 may be eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as early as next week pending authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. An independent panel of experts recommended the move Tuesday. The two-dose regimen will be spaced three weeks apart like the adult jab but will contain one-third the amount of vaccine as the dosage for those 12 years and older.

According to The New York Times, parents are wondering if their child is 11 years of age and on the cusp of the lower dose, should they wait until he or she turns 12 to get the adult dose? Epidemiologists say that if your 11-year-old child is eligible, get the vaccine when it is likely to be approved in November and don’t wait for another birthday.

“Just do it,” says Donna L. Farber , a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, who adds that with the Delta variant the virus is not going away any time soon, so getting vaccinated will help protect children against serious illness.

Although it is true that most children recover from COVID-19, some do get very sick. Experts from Johns Hopkins Medicine say that some kids infected by the coronavirus can develop severe lung infections and require hospitalization. Children can also have complications, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), an inflammation of tissues or organs, such as the heart, kidneys, or brain, that can be serious and linger, causing long-lasting symptoms. And then there is the rare, but real, possibility of death.

According to Dr. Leana Wen, a well-known physician and columnist for The Washington Post, since the beginning of the pandemic at least 1.8 million children between 5 and 11 have been diagnosed with COVID-19. More than 8,600 children have been hospitalized, with one in three hospitalizations requiring intensive care. “Tragically, 143 young children have died,” says Wen.

The two-dose 10 microgram Pfizer vaccine trials of 5- to 11-year-olds resulted in a nearly 91% efficacy rate, according to the Times, and no new or unexpected side effects were reported, according to the FDA’s advisory panel’s review of the data.

Immunologists told the Times that size doesn’t matter when it comes to vaccine dosage because the immune system of a small 5-year-old works in the same way as a large 5-year-old. Dr. David J. Rawlings, chief in the Division of Immunology at Seattle Children’s Hospital, explains that kids in that age group “have a really robust immune system,” and can produce enough disease-fighting antibodies with a lower dose of vaccine than those in the 12 to 17 age group.

Dr. Farber said that research in immune development shows that immunological adulthood is much earlier than 18, and that as kids get older, they have a less efficient immune system than that of younger children.

Side effects in the lower-dose vaccine were also fewer than the adult dose, say experts, another good reason not to wait to have your youngster vaccinated once the shot is approved.

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