Maine kids could be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as next week after a Food and Drug Administration panel voted unanimously Tuesday to advance the Pfizer shot for children between the ages of 5 and 11.
The vaccine still must be approved by the agency as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but both are expected to follow suit, possibly as early as next week. Here is what you need to know about the vaccine rollout in Maine.
Is it the same vaccine given to adults?
No. The vaccine for kids uses the same ingredients as the Pfizer vaccine that was approved for people aged 12 and older, but it contains just one-third of the amount of the active ingredient and it will be packaged differently than the regular Pfizer vaccine. As with the vaccine for adults, the vaccine course includes two shots, given three weeks apart.
How do we know the vaccine is safe?
The vaccine has undergone significant testing, with more than 2,200 children enrolled in a clinical trial since March. A FDA review of Pfizer’s data that preceded Tuesday’s panel vote found no safety concerns.
Some parents have raised concerns about potential vaccine side effects, such as myocarditis, a rare inflammation of the heart muscle triggered by the body’s immune reaction. But cases of myocarditis after COVID-19 vaccination are exceedingly rare — one study in Israel detected 136 cases among five million vaccinated people, and only one of those cases was fatal.
By contrast, a comparative study looking at incidence of myocarditis among teenagers in the U.S. found that myocarditis was six times more likely in unvaccinated teens who contracted COVID-19 than in teens who got the vaccine.
“If you’re focused on heart inflammation, the safer bet is to take the vaccine,” one of the researchers told The New Scientist.
Does COVID-19 really spread easily among kids?
Kids can contract and spread the virus, particularly the more contagious delta variant. The month of September saw the greatest number of COVID-19 cases in children younger than 12, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
A handful of Maine schools have also seen large outbreaks, with more than 30 people infected, suggesting possible in-school transmission of the virus. Those outbreaks have been most heavily concentrated in areas with high case rates and low vaccination rates.
How severe is COVID-19 in kids?
Most kids who contract COVID-19 experience some symptoms, but not severe enough to require hospitalization. According to the Maine CDC, 19 percent of kids younger than 18 with COVID-19 were truly asymptomatic when contacted by contact tracers. The most common symptoms are a runny nose, cough, headache and fatigue.
Only a small number of kids end up with a more severe version of the disease. In Maine, 22 kids younger than 10 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since March 2020. While Maine is one of just seven states to report no deaths from the disease among children, the American Academy of Pediatrics has identified 584 child deaths from COVID-19.
Where will I be able to take my child for the vaccine?
There are roughly 150 vaccine sites in Maine that the state CDC says are vaccinating people aged 12 and older. Many of those same ones will give shots to younger children, including pharmacies and health providers. But school clinics that have begun since older children were allowed to be vaccinated in the spring will pick up in this new phase, with Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah saying last week they will be the “mainstay” of the state’s effort.
State officials have been working with schools in preparation for the rollout, Emily Poland, a school nurse consultant for the Maine Department of Education, told lawmakers on Monday. School districts are generally collaborating with health providers and others who offer the vaccine in their area to ensure “dedicated pathways” to the vaccine for eligible students. Students must get permission from parents or guardians to be vaccinated at school.
Will the vaccine be required?
Not for now. Maine children are required to get vaccinated against a wide range of transmissible diseases, including measles and chickenpox. But all of the currently required vaccines have existed for a long time and are approved for full use by the federal government. Initially, the COVID-19 vaccine for children will only be authorized for emergency use.
It will likely be authorized for full use sometime next year, at which point Maine and other states might consider requiring it. For now, the vaccine is only required for health care workers under a mandate from Gov. Janet Mills that will be enforced this week. Federal mandates for large businesses, public workers and health care workers are expected later this year.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.