Coronavirus

A child receives a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Pisa, Italy on 18 December 2021. Italy sta...
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Covid Vaccines For Kids Under 5 Are Delayed & Parents Are Fed Up

“It is going to be a number of months until we have a vaccine that is authorized for our children under the age of 5.”

As a new variant of Covid-19 causes case numbers to inch up across the country, news that children under the age of 5 will likely have to wait until well into the new year to get vaccinated against the virus has left many parents feeling frustrated and disheartened. Health officials recently pushed back their estimated timeframes for when a Covid-19 vaccine will be authorized for use in young children after Pfizer announced last week that it would be extending its clinical trials in order to test a third dose of the vaccine in children age 5 and younger.

“It is going to be a number of months until we have a vaccine that is authorized for our children under the age of 5,” North Carolina Health Secretary Mandy Cohen said Monday in a coronavirus press briefing. “There was a setback just this week in some of the trials and so I do think it’s going to take a bit longer than we were hoping for. So I do think it’s in the order of months now, not weeks.”

The realization that children under 5 are “a number of months” away from being able to receive a Covid-19 vaccine came as a major blow to parents who have already spent 21 long months worrying about the health and safety of their youngest children. “Our 2-4yos cannot exist in a world that doesn’t have adequate protection for them,” one mom tweeted in reference to the delay of Covid-19 vaccines for children under 5. “Get it together. This has gone on too long.”

Previously the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, had estimated that infants and toddlers between the ages of 6 months and 5 years could receive a Covid-19 vaccine in early 2022. “Hopefully within a reasonably short period of time,” Fauci said in mid-November when asked by Insider when young children might become eligible for a vaccine. “Likely the beginning of next year in 2022. The first quarter of 2022 it will be available to them.”

On Friday, however, Pfizer and BioNTech announced it would be extending clinical trials of its vaccine in children ages 2 to 5 after a two-dose regimen of the vaccine — adjusted down to child-sized doses of 3 micrograms each — failed to produce the desired levels of immunity. The vaccine manufacturers will now test adding a third dose of 3 micrograms administered at least two months after the second dose to see if it increases the vaccine’s effectiveness in young children.

“No safety concerns were identified and the 3 microgram dose demonstrated a favorable safety profile in children 6 months to under 5 years of age," CNN reported Pfizer said in a statement. “The decision to evaluate a third dose of 3 micrograms for children 6 months to under 5 years of age reflects the companies' commitment to carefully select the right dose to maximize the risk-benefit profile.”

But of course, extending the trials means delaying when parents of children 5 and younger can expect to be able to protect them with a vaccine. Speaking to CNN on Friday, Fauci said a Covid-19 vaccine for children under age 5 won’t be authorized until at least the second quarter of 2022.

“As the mom of 2 under 5… today sucks,” Leigh McLean tweeted Friday. “I was hoping for vaccines in early 2022.”

McLean isn’t alone. Many other parents have taken to social media in recent days to express their dismay at the vaccine’s delay. “Feeling really [disheartened] about the delay of the under 5 Covid vaccine,” one parent shared on Twitter. “Testing will conclude ‘within the first half of 2022.’ F*ck.”

Mom and journalist Emma Dumain noted that although headlines highlighting how uniquely difficult the pandemic was for parents have dried up, the actual challenges have not. “There were so many articles in 2020 about how hard it was to be a parent during the pandemic,” Dumain recently tweeted. “Guess what? It’s still hard. Many of us are constantly making agonizing choices about how to keep our kids safe, especially those under 5 without the vaccine.”

Some have even questioned why the vaccine can’t be made available now given Pfizer’s claim that trial data showed it to be safe. “The data is in and although the vaccine isn’t 100% effective for kids under 5 it is 100% safe,” one mother tweeted. “If FDA is incapable of protecting my child then they should at least allow me to make the decision to vaccinate her. It’s infuriating that the FDA doesn’t think children under 5 are worth protecting from Covid.”

But along with dismay and exasperated frustration, many parents have also expressed feeling as if they have long been at their breaking point with no choice but to continue.

In an essay for TIME, author Katie Gutierrez, who has two children under the age of 5, described feeling as if the lifeline they’d long been clinging to had been ripped from their hands when Pfizer announced plans to extend its trial. “I wanted to wail, to howl,” Gutierrez wrote. “A lifeline, taken. That’s how it felt to me. The dizzying, sickening ride continuing, our backs against the wall, no end in sight.”

Yet, as Gutierrez has pointed out, most parents don’t have the option of giving up or even taking a day off. Instead, they must continue to slog on through the pandemic without a vaccine for children under age 5, leading them to constantly compute cost-benefit analyses in their heads while worrying about the risks of exposure.

“Don’t get me wrong: we, these children’s weary husks of parents — many of whom have lost careers, income, partners, ourselves — will keep doing our part to protect them,” Gutierrez wrote. “We will run ourselves into the ground every damn day and dig ourselves out the next. But we need help. Do you hear me? We need help.”