I-Team: Vaccinating Children Against Covid-19

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in children as young as 12 on Monday, and the News Center 7 I-Team took questions surrounding vaccinating young children to the doctor overseeing an Ohio clinical trial and a Miami Valley pediatrician.

“Parents should feel comfortable of asking questions and feel that they’ve had their questions answered,” said Dr. Robert Frenck.

Frenck is Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s Vaccine Research Center director.

Ecstatic with how vaccine trials are going, and with results showing a more than 90% effective rate, the doctor said vaccinating children, who make up more than one-fifth of the U.S. population, is the key to getting the country back to normal.

“While the masks and social distancing work, they’re difficult for us as humans to continue. And that’s why the vaccines really are going to be the way for us to get back to the way we had been,” Frenck said.

Young Children Studied In Ohio

Cincinnati area first-grader Amirah is enrolled in the Cincinnati Children’s Pfizer vaccine trial, which is currently studying 2-11 year olds.

“It felt good,” the seven-year-old told the I-Team’s Cherly McHenry about how she felt about participating.

Her mother, Jamila, who asked that their last name not be used, said she, her husband, and two older children are all participating in the study.

“We just felt like for our own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of the people who we love and the people who we interact with, it was our responsibility,” Jamila said.

Centerville parents Marc and Kim Colclasure saw no reason not to enroll their two youngest kids in Dayton’s PriMed Clinical Research Pfizer trials.

“I really thought a way to protect my family. I would take any opportunity for that,” said Kim.

Her husband Marc saw the trials as a way for the family get back to normal activities, such as soccer and horse camp.

“We’re all fairly medically stable, it’s something that we actively took a step forward as a family to do,” Marc said.

12-year old Payton Colclasure’s motivation was to get out and see her friends.

“I was in quarantine for a little bit, once, and I did not take that very well,” Payton said

Older sister Ellie, 14, did not like school online and wanted to make a difference by getting vaccinated.

“An easy way to contribute to society.”

Concerned Parents

Heather Turpin’s husband and three daughters run and play sports. The West Alexandria family has had other childhood vaccines, but mom is not ready for them to get the COVID-19 shot.

“It’s just not been out long enough. I don’t feel comfortable giving them something that we don’t know the long term effects for an adult, let alone a child,” Turpin said.

Bellbrook mom Helen Jones has the same concern. Her own mother was a polio survivor and Helen has taken the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. But she thinks there’s a rush to put it into children’s arms.

“It’s okay to take a little step back and just wait when we’re talking about our kids.”

Pediatrician Dr. Greg Eberhart hears the same concerns from parents in his Springboro practice, and he understands.

“I think we all make decisions in the best interests of our kids. It’s hard for me to fault parents who genuinely have fears that something of harm will come to their children.”

Questions Surrounding Children’s Vaccinations

The I-Team took Jones’ and Turpin’s questions directly to Dr. Robert Frenck.

Jones worries the vaccine, “Hasn’t been FDA-approved yet. It’s got an emergency authorization. It’s experimental.”

Frenck said there are no effective COVID-19 treatments or preventions and the vaccines have shown what he calls ‘amazing’ clinical trials results.

“That’s why the Food and Drug Administration allowed the vaccines to be used,” Frenck said.

Both moms also wanted to know about vaccine side effects.

“From the information we have right now, the side effects we’ve seen have been relatively minor and short-lived,” Frenck said.

Jones asked about other vaccine ingredients and how their body interact.

“As far as for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, there is mRNA and there is a lipid, so a fat particle that’s put around it, that’s it,” Frenck said.

He went on to explain the vaccine’s job is to bring the spike protein gene into our cell.

“Our cell then makes spike protein and puts that spike protein on the surface of our cells to start our immune response and then the mRNA is degraded. It’s chewed up. It does not stay in our body,” the doctor added.

The Delicate Balance

Despite her own vaccine hesitation, Heather Turpin said she would allow her 14-year old to decide for herself.

“Because she’s at an age, she’s smart enough, she’s responsible enough. If she feels the need to get it, I would take her and get it,” Turpin said.

Helen Jones conceded her 16-year-old will be off to college in a couple of years.

“At that point she’ll be 18 and she can make her own decisions. I mean, I can advise her but I can’t say yes or no,” Jones said.

Dr. Eberhart knows firsthand the delicate balance in encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated, while recognizing their valid concerns.

“It is a difficult decision and I’m not going to convince every family to vaccinate. But at the end of the day these are decisions that every family has to make and that’s consistent with what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends,” Eberhart said.

All minor children’s parents of may have to decide soon whether the COVID-19 vaccine is right for their child.

Pfizer’s CEO said last week he expects to request emergency use authorization from the FDA in September for children ages 2-11, and for ages six months to 2 before the end of the year.

Last week Moderna announced its’ vaccine was 96% effective in 12 to 17-year-olds.

Our Boston I-Team partners sat down with company president Stephen Hoge to talked about their teen study results, how often we might need boosters, profits, and how the vaccine does against variants.