Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

A step closer to vaccinating kids.,


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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

ImageDaily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.
Daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States, seven-day average.Credit…The New York Times

In a move eagerly awaited by many parents and educators across the U.S., an advisory committee to the F.D.A. recommended Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. If fully authorized, shots could be offered as early as next week.

The F.D.A.’s outside experts voted after regulators argued that thousands of children ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with Covid-19 and nearly 100 have died over the course of the pandemic. Seventeen committee members voted in favor of the pediatric dose; one abstained.

The panel voted to give children of that age group a dose that is one-third of the strength given to people 12 and older, in two shots, three weeks apart.

The decision opens the way to inoculating 28 million children in the U.S. Polling has shown that roughly a third of parents with elementary school children are eager to vaccinate their children right away, while a third prefer to wait.

Here are some answers to some common questions about vaccines and children.

How effective is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children?

During clinical trials, the children who got the vaccine produced a strong immune response, comparable to the levels of antibodies seen in earlier studies of participants who were 16 to 25. But children in the 5- to 11-year-old group achieved this response with 10 micrograms of the vaccine, a third of the dose given to older children and adults. Pfizer presented trial data, saying its vaccine had an efficacy rate of 91 percent against symptomatic Covid-19.

What about side effects?

Side effects tend to be mild, and similar to those observed in young adults. At higher doses, researchers observed more side effects in younger children, including fever, headache and fatigue, although none were severe, experts said. After lowering the strength of the dose, researchers said they saw fewer side effects.

In rare cases, the vaccine has led to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, in young men. Federal health officials have said the heart condition tends to be mild and resolve quickly. None of the children involved in Pfizer’s clinical trial developed that heart condition, but this was expected given its rarity.

Why should children be vaccinated against Covid-19?

Nearly two million children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been infected, 8,300 have been hospitalized and nearly 100 have died over the course of the pandemic. Dr. Peter Marks, who heads the F.D.A.’s division that oversees vaccine approvals, told the F.D.A. panel that Covid is now one of the top 10 causes of death among children 5 to 11.

In The Times’s Opinion section, Lee Savio Beers, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, argued that a child vaccination campaign could help slow the spread of the disease to the unvaccinated and to more at-risk adults, reducing its toll on everyone.

For 11-year-olds on the cusp of turning 12, is it better to wait for the adult dose, or get the smaller dose right away? Does the weight or height of the child make any difference?

Five experts in immunology and infectious diseases agreed: The appropriate dosage for children is best determined by age, not size. So if your 11-year-old is able to get the shot starting in November, do it right away rather than waiting for your child to turn 12.

Weight is an important factor when you give a young child medication like Tylenol because there is a wide variation in weight from infancy throughout childhood and too much of the drug could be toxic. The optimal vaccine dose, however, is dependent on age and tailored to minimize potential side effects.

What comes next?

The F.D.A. typically follows the advice of its advisory panel, and the head of the agency will issue its final decision, typically within a few days.

Next, an advisory committee to the C.D.C. will review the F.D.A.’s decision and make recommendations, which the C.D.C. usually follows. The director of the C.D.C. will then issue the agency’s guidance. State health departments generally follow the recommendations of the C.D.C. Federal officials have said that if pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine are authorized, 15 million doses of vaccine will immediately be shipped to the states for distribution.

Moderna said today that it would sell up to 110 million doses of its vaccine to African countries after facing criticism for keeping its Covid vaccine out of reach of poorer nations.

The company said it would deliver 15 million shots by the end of this year and 35 million more by the end of March. That’s a modest boost in supply for a continent with severe vaccine shortages and some of the world’s lowest vaccination rates.

The Times reported this month that Moderna has aggressively chased profits, and that its shots have gone almost entirely to wealthier countries. The company has been sharply criticized for not sharing its vaccine recipe or transferring its technology to manufacturers in poorer countries that could produce doses for local markets.

However, Moderna said today that it was “working on plans” to bottle doses of its Covid vaccine somewhere on the African continent as soon as 2023, in addition to its plans announced this month to open a factory in Africa at an unspecified date. (BioNTech — the German company that partnered with Pfizer to produce its Covid vaccine — also said today that it planned next year to start building a factory somewhere in Africa to manufacture vaccines.)

Experts argue that rather than sending vaccines and promising to build facilities, it would be more effective for Moderna and Pfizer to share their expertise and license their technology. Fewer than 6 percent of Africans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“It’s a drop in the ocean for what the needs are,” Fatima Hassan, the head of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, said of Moderna’s announcement. “It’s up to 110 million for a population and a continent of 1.3 billion.”

When the pandemic slowed down life and kept many people at home, some of us returned to the garden, worked our way through family recipes or caught up on binge-worthy TV.

Others found solace in books, returning to old favorites or seeking out new titles to help process the moment. If that sounds like you, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re asking readers: Which book resonated most with you during the pandemic — and why?

Let us know using this form. We may feature your response in an upcoming newsletter.

I am back to the office where I share an open space with 30 other colleagues. Unfortunately, I have to clean my desk, my chair and my computer when I arrive. I find dirty towels or cups left behind every few days. People are tired of speaking with their masks on. I don’t want to think about how things will be in the winter, when the windows will be closed and the heat will be on. Yet I am happy to chat with some of my colleagues and no longer be alone at home!

— Elena Lionnet, Paris

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Amelia Nierenberg contributed to today’s newsletter.

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