For weeks, Jessica Alvarez, 36, tracked any and all news about the impending authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. A few days prior to the shot becoming available, Jessica Alvarez, 36, began calling Georgia providers to arrange an appointment for her daughter, 8.
All that legwork—and a 45-minute drive through Atlanta traffic—paid off on the morning of Nov. 3, when Alvarez’ daughter became one of the first younger children in the U.S. to receive Pfizer’s vaccine. Pulling into the clinic and getting confirmation that her daughter would be vaccinated was an “emotional rush,” Alvarez says. “Knowing that it was going to happen and seeing the kids in front of me, I got my tears out.”
Alvarez was determined to secure an appointment as her daughter suffers from severe asthma. COVID-19 infections could prove fatal for her. When the Delta variant led to an uptick in cases earlier this year, Alvarez pulled her daughter out of school, pivoting to a combination of homeschooling and remote schoolwork, and decided she would only attend in-person once she’d been vaccinated. That return is now just weeks away, and Alvarez can start to imagine things like visiting her parents and in-laws overseas—not to mention enjoying “a reduction in my overall anxiety.”
For many U.S. parents, Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric vaccine—which was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 29, then recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 2—feels like a golden ticket back to almost-normal life. This shot is more effective than 90% in preventing symptoms among children aged 5 to 11. Until now, they had been forced to depend on social distancing and masking the infection to protect themselves. Many families have had to keep their younger children in check while they watched as vaccinated teens, adults and teenagers embraced many aspects of life before the pandemic.
“It feels like Christmas came early,” says Jerri Green, who is 43 and lives in Memphis. Jerri Green was able to secure the first vaccination appointments for her children aged 10 and 11.
For Green, the pediatric shot’s authorization means peace of mind. It allows her to stop worrying about whether or not their children will contract the virus and can let them go back to school and other activities she had suspended during the pandemic. Though she also has a 4-year-old who must wait a bit longer for a vaccine, “this represents so much relief for us,” Green says.
The availability of a pediatric vaccine means families with younger kids can carefully resume things like indoor gatherings, “which should be really meaningful, particularly with the holidays around the corner,” says Dr. Susan Coffin, an infectious disease physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But, she cautions, it’s still important to keep kids home and get them tested if they aren’t feeling well, and to wear masks in crowded indoor areas or around those who are particularly vulnerable.
Coffin agrees that this is a moment to be celebrated by parents and all members of the community. “Children are just so embedded in what so many of us do occupationally,” she says. “If not parents of children in this age group, most of us have neighbors, relatives or others in our lives who are going to be deeply affected” by this authorization.
Pediatric vaccinations have been made a central part of the federal government’s plan to end the epidemic. Although children are less likely to become seriously ill or die of COVID-19 than their parents, it is possible for them to get the virus and pass it on. It will be possible to reduce the number of cases and hospitalizations caused by the virus among the approximately 28 million children between 5 and 11 years old.
Contributing to that process feels like a “civic duty,” says Dan Sachar, a father of twin 11-year-olds who lives in Miami.
Sachar, 45 years old, increased his COVID-19 precautions in response to the Delta surge. His children were not vaccinated. Sachar, 45, has now scheduled his vaccinations and is able to see the benefits of eating in restaurants again, as well as traveling with the children for sleepovers.
Sachar also believes it is important to contribute to the larger good. “We’re ecstatic that soon we’ll get back to normal with the kids,” he says. “But also we want our kids to be part of protecting everybody else.”
It’s clear that many parents match his enthusiasm. Reports indicate that there is a shortage of vaccine appointments for pediatrics in California and Texas.
According to polling, many parents still have concerns about vaccinations. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 35% said that they wouldn’t vaccinate their children between 5 and 11 years old, while the remaining 25% would do so if necessary. It will take a lot of individual, ground-based outreach to reach these families.
That hesitation, Sachar says, is part of why he’s talking so publicly about vaccinating his own kids. He’s not one to share much on social media, but says he might post a photo online to help build excitement among people he knows.
“It’s why we wanted to get the first spots,” he says. “It’s a great lesson for children, to see that they are helping others by doing something that’s safe and protects themselves, but they also contribute to making life safer for people that they know and don’t know.”