While COVID-19 cases and hospitalization remain well-below the high transmission rates seen earlier this year, the youngest population remains most vulnerable to the virus. Those under the age of 5 previously didn't have the option to get the vaccine, but that could be changing soon.
“I know that there are so many parents who have just lived in fear for so long so I know it is a big sigh of relief to a lot of families,” Lydia Toppston, a Chicago mother of two said.
Toppston has two girls at home, a 3-year-old and a 6-month old who recently had a bout with COVID-19.
“The whole country seemed like it had moved on in some ways and we’ve been still behind with these young kids waiting to be protected,” Toppston said.
But for parents of children currently unable to get vaccinated against the virus, there was welcomed news Thursday.
Moderna announced it is seeking emergency use authorization for its vaccine in children under the age of 6.
“There is an important unmet medical need here with these youngest kids,” Dr. Paul Burton, Moderna's chief medical officer, told The Associated Press. Two kid-size shots “will safely protect them. I think it is likely that over time they will need additional doses. But we're working on that.”
The FDA will evaluate Moderna's submission and has said it will convene its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee to weigh in on vaccine authorization for younger children. If the FDA authorizes the shots, vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will vote on whether it should be recommended.
One pediatrician tells NBC 5 the request on Moderna's behalf couldn't be coming at a better time. As the temperature warms and summer nears, fears of further infection continue to grow, but Dr. Michael Capello with Advocate's Children's hospital believes this is how the country will continue to inch back to pre-pandemic life.
“This will give them an opportunity to get back to somewhat close to what the normal was before," Capello said. "Nothing is 100%, nothing is perfect but this definitely gives you an opportunity."
It is important to note the efficacy of the vaccine for the pediatric group is less than its counterpart for adults.
In a study of kids ages 6 months through 5 years, two Moderna shots — each a quarter of the regular dose — triggered high levels of virus-fighting antibodies, the same amount proven to protect young adults, Burton said. There were no serious side effects, and the shots triggered fewer fevers than other routine vaccinations.
But the vaccine proved between about 40% and 50% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 during the trial. Burton blamed the omicron variant's ability to partially evade vaccine immunity, noting that unboosted adults showed similarly less effectiveness against milder omicron infections. While no children became severely ill during the study, he said high antibody levels are a proxy for protection against more serious illness — and the company will test a child booster dose.
“To be able to have some disease or some symptoms is better than having to go to the hospital," Capello said. "Knowing that we will be able to afford some solid protection, it will give some parents confidence about getting back out especially as the rest of the world is opening up a lot."
Yet it’s not clear how many parents intend to vaccinate the youngest kids. Less than a third of children ages 5 to 11 have had two vaccinations, and 58% of those ages 12 to 17.