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Families optimistic as Pfizer announces goal to vaccinate children 2+ by fall

Pfizer announced it will be seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA for use of its COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as two.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Julia Leggett said if you met her daughter, it would be hard to tell there is anything unusual.

"My daughter is Hazel. She just had her third birthday party," she said. "She's just a spunky, outgoing, wild three-year-old."

But what many may not see right away is that Hazel is a fighter. Leggett said her daughter has lived with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disorder that affects the lungs and digestive system.

"She takes medication every day, multiple times a day," Leggett said. "She's been hospitalized."

When the pandemic hit, Leggett said there was added concern for Hazel, whose health is compromised because of cystic fibrosis. Both Leggett and her husband have since received the coronavirus vaccine and now she is waiting for her daughter's turn.

"The risk of not getting it for us is just too much," she said.

Pfizer announced Tuesday in an earnings meeting it will be seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA for use of its COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as two as early as this fall. The FDA is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use for children ages 12 through 16 in the next few days.

As of now, the Pfizer vaccine is only authorized for emergency use for people 16 years and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are only authorized for use for people 18 and older. 

"This is a very personal decision for every family to make for their children," Caleb Phelps, another parent, said.

Phelps, a father of two girls ages two and five, said he is looking forward to being able to have his daughters vaccinated, but understands this is a decision that every family will need to make on their own. He said he already trusts his medical doctors and pediatricians with other areas of his daughters' health, so he also trusts their medical opinion when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine.

"When I think of the alternative, when I think of my children getting one of the perhaps more dangerous variants of COVID-19, that scares me far more than the vaccine does," he said.

Breck Thomas-Ross may be making that decision sooner than other parents. Her daughter, 12, is right at the cut-off for the next round of people that may be authorized to get the Pfizer vaccine. Thomas-Ross said once her daughter is vaccinated, it will open the door for more opportunities for her, including school and other social activities.

"Probably one of the most positive things that came to mind was, hey, we might actually be able to go travel this summer after she's had her vaccine," she said.

The vaccine is still undergoing clinical trials with children and will need to be proven to work before being granted emergency use authorization. According to health experts, children are divided into different age groups, in this case 12 through 15 and two through 11, because of their physiological differences.

"If you think of somebody ages 12 through 16, that's closer to the size, overall status approaching adulthood than 2 through 11," Norton Medical Group Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Joseph Flynn said. "It truly is a different group."

"The vaccine is most likely going to be effective, but they're looking more for safety for their children than anything else," UofL Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Burns said.

According to Flynn, the children are also divided into different age ranges to speed up the clinical trials and to better understand the effects the vaccines may have on children at a certain stage of development. Flynn said given the global nature of the coronavirus pandemic, there were far more volunteers for these clinical trials than have been seen in the past.

Burns said there are also fewer participants used in clinical trials involving children, but they are still run to prioritize the safety of the vaccine. Burns said oftentimes, vaccines will evoke a stronger response from children's immune systems.

Both Flynn and Burns said vaccinations are the only way to fight back against the coronavirus, which continues to rapidly spread and mutate. At this time, all the vaccines being used in the United States have proven to be effective against the new variants, and experts recommend children receive their vaccines whenever they are available to help prevent the virus from spreading to other more vulnerable people.

"It is literally the key for us to move onto that next phase of life post-COVID is to get vaccinated," Flynn said.

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