Dr. Cameron Webb, JD, MD is a senior policy advisor for COVID-19 Equity on the White House COVID-19 Response Team. He spoke with the Amsterdam News for a Q&A about COVID-19 vaccines for children under five. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
AmNews: Please discuss the plan for getting young people between 6 months and 5 years old vaccinated.
Dr. Webb: It’s been a long time coming to get to this point where we’re releasing a plan on how to vaccinate the nearly 18 million kids between the ages of 6 months and 5 years; about 50% of them are children of color and so we want to make sure that in this process we’re safely, equitably thoughtfully getting…the vaccine…out to this population that needs it so much. The first step in that process is always going to be the science. The FDA’s committee that reviews vaccines and biological products then…makes the determination [on] an emergency use authorization…then…the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices…recommend this vaccine…So it’s exciting because it’s a not insignificant portion of the population. There are a lot of parents eager to see these protections, a lot of kids who are immunocompromised or have disabilities or would be at greater risk for a bad COVID outcome who are going to be really helped.
AmNews: Why is vaccinating children so important?
Dr. Webb: The benefit is there to vaccinate enough of the population so that we don’t see those bad outcomes. The reason why we protect kids against the flu isn’t that every kid dies from the flu but some kids die from the flu…Having a vaccine is a really important public health step, a really important piece of the puzzle to have in place as a compliment to all the ways that we protect our kids every single day.
AmNews: How do you see the rollout of the program?
Dr. Webb: A lot of these vaccines are going to be going out through pediatricians, through family providers. This is a population that is used to getting vaccinated. They get the lion’s share of shots in this country, kids under 5. So you’re going to see a lot of it in those primary care practice offices. You’ll also see children’s hospitals, rural health clinics, community health centers, we’ll be leveraging those spaces as well and then we’ll compliment that by asking to connect with providers, community-based organizations, with federal programs like WIC, like our Housing Urban Development Program and make sure we’re getting that information to those parents and families.
On Friday, June 17, 2022, the FDA approved these COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old. In a statement from the press release, FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. stated that “[m]any parents, caregivers and clinicians have been waiting for a vaccine for younger children and this action will help protect those down to 6 months of age. As we have seen with older age groups, we expect that the vaccines for younger children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, such as hospitalization and death.”
On Saturday, June 18, 2022, the CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation that all children 6 months to 5 years old receive either the Moderna or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. In New York City, vaccines for this population began shortly after the CDC’s decision.
As to why it is such an important step for children ages 6 months to 5 years old to receive the vaccine, Dr. Torian Easterling, first deputy commissioner and chief equity officer of the New York City Department of Health, spoke to the AmNews and echoed much of what Dr. Cameron stated.
“For all ages we know that [with the] vaccines, the benefits outweigh [the] risks. We know that it’s going to be important because we want to prevent severe illness and death, so we know that vaccines do that. I think that it’s really important, particularly for young children, although we do not see as many deaths among young children, we do know that severe illness and hospitalization can happen for our youngest New Yorkers,” he said.
“We need to make sure that they’re getting vaccinated because this means that they’ll be able to keep their family members protected. I would say the other reason is it minimizes disruption. Imagine that you have a school-aged child…in child care and someone gets COVID, all of those people are out of work, out of school…If someone is vaccinated, even with exposure, it decreases sickness and illness and it allows them to continue with their daily activities, so these are all important reasons…preventing hospitalizations, decreasing risk and transmission, and minimizing disruption in your daily activities,” Dr. Easterling added.
Getting vaccinated and boosted is the best way to protect yourself and your children from COVID-19. To get a vaccination or booster visit https://covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov/ or call 1-833-NYS-4-VAX (1-833-697-4829) or https://vaccinefinder.nyc.gov/