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March could see vaccine for children under 5 years old

Kidney transplant patient Sophia Silvaamaya, 5, held by her father Pedro Silvaamaya, gets a bandage on her arm after getting vaccinated for COVID-19 by nurse Kelly Vanderwende, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, at Children's National Hospital in Washington. The U.S. enters a new phase Wednesday in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with shots now available to millions of elementary-age children in what health officials hailed as a major breakthrough after more than 18 months of illness, hospitalizations, deaths and disrupted education.
Carolyn Kaster
Currently, the earliest a child can be vaccinated in the U.S. is at age five, but a vaccine for younger children could be available in a few months.

Although many parents are excited about the prospect of a vaccine for children under the age of 5, not many kids in the older age group have gotten their own vaccine yet.

There is some encouraging news on the horizon for parents anxiously waiting for a COVID vaccine for their children who are not yet five years old.

Dr. Angela Myers with Children's Mercy Hospital points to a Pfizer vaccine for the youngest children. Myers says because of what she has seen being reported, “I'm really optimistic that it could be earlier than what we had originally thought, which was March, April-ish.”

The concern now is that the vaccination rate for kids under five may be similar to that for fully vaccinated 5 to 11-year-olds, which stands at only 20%.

Myers reminds parents that the COVID vaccine is well-researched and that long-term negative effects are unlikely. "We know from other vaccine trials throughout history," Myers notes, “we don't see long-term effects from vaccines."

Virologist Gene Olinger agrees with the importance of inoculating children. He points to examples of kids who visited grandparents’ houses and unknowingly infected their family members, resulting in a grandparent’s death.

“These are things that you don’t want on your family’s conscience," Olinger says.

Myers notes that with the COVID vaccine, there’s a low chance that someone will get a severe case of COVID, but people should still take measures to reduce the chance of illness or death.

“As long as there are pockets of unvaccinated people around the globe,” Myers says, “then there will continue to be variants, the virus will continue to mutate.”

For those who think that COVID will become less dangerous to us much like common cold, Gene Olinger points to history noting that "it took almost 100 years for the last cold virus to adapt in humans to be a non-serious disease." As for a new variant, such as the one coming out of France, Olinger believes "we can't assume it will be less virulent."

Myers says that from an evolutionary standpoint, it's advantageous for a virus to become more contagious and less virulent, as that will allow it to continue to spread. She thinks, however, "that we will get to a point where we get an annual vaccine just like we do for influenza."

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Eleanor Nash is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date. You can reach her at enash@kcur.org
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