New York: If Pfizer-BioNTech and President Joe Biden held an election among Indians in America, they would have nearly every single vote.
Several thousand Indians and people of Indian origin (PIOs), many with young children, had to skip the annual “naani-dadi” pilgrimage in 2020 due to severe Covid-19 restrictions. Even after Biden ramped up vaccinations with great gusto, the spoiler lingered: no vaccine for kids under 12.
That changed Tuesday. US health officials gave the final greenlight to Pfizer’s kid-size Covid-19 shot, which expands the country’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 5.
Biden called the decision “a turning point”. This opens up Covid-19 vaccines to 28 million youngsters in the 5-11 years age group.
“It will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others. It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus,” Biden said.
Parents worried about the constant risk of an uptick in cases during the school term are welcoming the news as colder weather blankets large swathes of the US.
Shilpa and Sunder, from Pune and Chennai, see a “ray of hope”.
Shilpa, now a resident of Springfield, New Jersey, texted: “Being a firm believer in vaccinations, I think this plan for getting 5yr old children to teens vaccinated seems promising. We are very enthusiastic but there is a tiny bit of fear thinking about possible side effects!”
Atlanta resident Rashi is relieved that “it’s not like last year anymore” but she’ll be holding off before taking her 7-year-old for the jab. “I will watch how things go for about three or four months and then get him vaccinated,” she said over phone. Like Shilpa and Sunder, Rashi, who hails from New Delhi, worries about side effects.
US CDC advisers said that the decision for many parents on getting children vaccinated may turn on the risks involved in alternative scenarios.
“The risk of some sort of bad heart involvement is much higher if you get Covid than if you get this vaccine,” Dr Matthew Oster, a paediatric cardiologist at Emory University, told a CDC panel before the final approval on Tuesday. “Covid is much riskier to the heart.”
Arpita Jindani, with roots in Mumbai, plans to ferry her younger child for the shot. “This is welcome news as a parent and I am relieved that my younger child will be protected soon.”
Jindani, a resident of Summit, New Jersey, lost family members in India to Covid-19 last year. “The issue of vaccine equity is very close to my heart…we need to work harder to provide global access to vaccines, not just to high income countries but low medium income countries as well.”
As for the US, paediatric doses have begun arriving at thousands of locations across the country. Doses will be a third of the amount given to teens and adults.
For the 5-11 cohort, Pfizer studied 2,268 youngsters and reported that its shot is 91% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, based on 16 diagnoses among kids given dummy shots versus those who got the vaccine. Pfizer is testing shots for babies and under-5s, it expects data by year-end.