MORGANTOWN – With Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, approved by the Food and Drug Administration for adolescents ages 12 to 15, a West Virginia University pediatrician assured its safety and efficacy: it underwent the same rigorous testing as for adults.
Dr. Lisa Costello, assistant professor of pediatrics at WVU School of Medicine, noted that clinical trials for all age groups – including children as young as six months – are underway.
“We want to make sure, from a scientific and public health community, that these vaccines are safe and effective for children,” she said. “From the start of the pandemic, pediatricians have advocated that children be included in clinical trials and that all research on COVID-19 vaccines meets the highest standards. There are ongoing studies in children with both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. “
On Monday (May 10), the FDA expanded emergency use authorization for the 12 to 15-year-old age group. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must now recommend the use of the vaccine for the new age group.
Once vaccines are fully approved, Gov. Jim Justice said vaccination clinics are expected to open in schools in all 55 counties for the estimated 78,000 West Virginia students now eligible for vaccination.
Costello said she expected additional vaccinations by age over time. She predicted the vaccine could be approved for the entire population in early 2022. According to the developer, data could be available by the end of this summer on how the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine works in children 5 to 11 years old.
Data from clinical studies released by Pfizer in late March showed promise for the 12- to 15-year-old group. In clinical trials, the vaccine was reported to be 100% effective in preventing infection in more than 2,000 adolescents, meaning that none of the teens in Pfizer’s research project became infected with the virus. All produced strong antibody responses and experienced no serious side effects. Mild to moderate adverse reactions were consistent with those seen in adults, according to the report.
Some continue to question how officials managed to authorize and distribute vaccines within a year of a pandemic. Yet scientists have been researching vaccines for related coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, for years.
Costello noted that the COVID-19 vaccine development process has been seen the fastest to date, as the entire medical, scientific, and public health communities build on previous research technology mobilized like never before to end this pandemic.
With SARS-CoV-2, scientists did not rely on whole virus cells to make the vaccine. Instead, they used a fragment of the virus’s messenger RNA, the instructions cells follow to build proteins.
Since the messenger RNA cannot integrate with our DNA, you don’t have to worry about changing its genetic makeup. And it disappears after just a few days, which means it doesn’t linger in cells after it achieves its purpose.
Minors must get permission from their parents or guardians to be vaccinated in West Virginia, which can be challenging for those who question vaccination.
For the better part of a year, Costello has split her time between her home base in Morgantown and Charleston, where she played a part in the state’s pandemic response with the Joint Information Center, which is part of the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force . for COVID-19 vaccines.
One of the main goals was to provide fast and accurate information to the public. With disinformation and unproven theories about the virus and vaccine floating on social media and through word of mouth, it can be hard to break through the noise.
“Parents and caregivers want facts so they can make an informed decision for themselves and their children,” Costello said. “The vaccine is safe and it is important that they choose to vaccinate. It is an important role to protect not only themselves, but also the people around them. “
Costello also said it’s important for parents to recognize that, despite the story that COVID-19 primarily affects the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, serious complications can occur in children as well.
“Children have become seriously ill from COVID-19 and we still need to practice all other safety precautions, such as wearing a mask and washing our hands,” Costello said. “Studies have been done on the new variants showing that they are more transmissible among children, and we have seen more outbreaks in schools.
“For a long time people thought that children were not seriously affected, but I have taken care of children who were hospitalized with COVID-19. This is also a serious illness for children and it is therefore important that they are protected. The safest way to do that is through vaccination. “