With record numbers of COVID-19 cases being reported in kids, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have announced that their mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 is safe and appears to generate a protective immune response in children as young as 5.
The companies have been testing a lower dose of the vaccine — just 10 milligrams — in children between the ages of 5 and 11. That’s one-third the dose given to adults.
In a clinical trial that included more than 2,200 children, Pfizer says two doses of the vaccines given 3 weeks apart generated a high level of neutralizing antibodies, comparable to the level seen in older children who get a higher dose of the vaccine.
On the advice of its vaccine advisory committee, the Food and Drug Administration asked vaccine makers to include more children in these studies earlier this year.
Rather than testing whether the vaccines are preventing COVID-19 illness in children, as they did in adults, the pharmaceutical companies that make the COVID-19 vaccines are looking at the antibody levels generated by the vaccines instead. The FDA has approved the approach in hopes of speeding vaccines to children, who are now back in school full time in most parts of the United States.
With that in mind, Evan Anderson, MD, a doctor with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta who is an investigator for the trial — and is therefore kept in the dark about its results — said it’s important to keep in mind that the company didn’t share any efficacy data today.
“We don’t know whether there were cases of COVID-19 among children that were enrolled in the study and how those compared in those who received placebo versus those that received vaccine,” he said.
The company says side effects seen in the trial are comparable to those seen in older children. The company said there were no cases of heart inflammation called myocarditis observed. Pfizer says they plan to send their data to the FDA as soon as possible.
The company says side effects seen in the trial are comparable to those seen in older children. Pfizer says they plan to send their data to the FDA as soon as possible.
“We are pleased to be able to submit data to regulatory authorities for this group of school-aged children before the start of the winter season,” Ugur Sahin, MD, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said in a news release. “The safety profile and immunogenicity data in children aged 5 to 11 years vaccinated at a lower dose are consistent with those we have observed with our vaccine in other older populations at a higher dose.”
When asked how soon the FDA might act on Pfizer’s application, Anderson said others had speculated about timelines of 4 to 6 weeks, but he also noted that the FDA could still exercise its authority to ask the company for more information, which could slow the process down.
“As a parent myself, I would love to see that timeline occurring quickly. However, I do want the FDA to fully review the data and ask the necessary questions,” he said. “It’s a little speculative to get too definitive with timelines.”
A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.