Students attended classes on the first day of school in the Cleveland School District, Monday, August 9, 2021. All students and staff were required to wear masks. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Pfizer announced this week that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5-11, meaning the vaccine could be approved for children as early as the end of October. 

Trial results announced on Monday showed a comparable immune response in children given two 10mg doses of the vaccine administered 21 days apart, according to the Pfizer press release. The standard dose for individuals 12 and up is two shots of 30mg.

Dr. John Gaudet, the former president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, explained that doses are formulated based on the size of the immune response, and children typically have a very strong immune system, meaning they need to be exposed to less of the virus to have the same effect. 

Gaudet estimates, based on the timeline for adult doses last winter, that the vaccine will be publicly available for children starting around Halloween. He emphasized that it is important to wait and move through the correct processes to adhere to vaccine safety measures, but he is excited about what is to come once those standards have been met. 

“It (will be) a huge step forward,” he said. “Kids compose a huge percentage of our state or our community, and the more kids that we can get vaccinated, the higher immunity that we’ll have among the society as a whole. And also, we can protect kids. A lot of people believe that children don’t get sick from COVID, and that’s false. They tend to do better than adults, but it’s not unheard of for children to have to go into the doctor’s office or the hospital, and have even tragically suffered the worst consequence, that being death.” 

Cases in children have increased substantially in recent months, with children ages 5-17 making up 22% of Mississippi’s total cases in August, up from 13% in May according to the Mississippi Department of Health. 

Currently 72% of students in Mississippi are under a mask requirement at school, and 6,300 were quarantining from exposure last week. Gaudet says getting children vaccinated will help schools function more smoothly, as it will help decrease virus transmission and individual students will not have to quarantine from exposure if vaccinated. 

Two school districts, Natchez-Adams and Jackson Public Schools, have already announced requirements that staff get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.  

Gaudet said he is concerned there will be some hesitancy surrounding the vaccine for children, but encouraged parents to discuss that hesitancy with their doctors. 

“As long as those parents come into the doctor’s office and earnestly voice their concerns, I am going to listen to their concerns and I am going to address every one of them,” Gaudet said. 

He also said that he thinks vaccine hesitancy is sometimes overemphasized. 

“We all talk about the hesitant, the hesitant, but many parents are chomping at the bit waiting for this, asking me when it’s coming, and they are going to be first in line. They want to protect their kids.”

Gaudet encouraged interested parents to reach out to their pediatricians or nurse practitioners and inquire about vaccine availability at their offices, as it will help the providers gauge the demand in their community. 

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Julia James is Mississippi Today's poverty and breaking news reporter. A native of Mandeville, Louisiana, James recently completed an investigative reporting internship with Mississippi Today. In that role, she closely covered the sprawling welfare scandal and public education. She will continue that work, as well as working closely with Mississippi Today’s breaking news team. James is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has been published in The New York Times, Mississippi Today, and Clarion Ledger.