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'Benefits are overwhelmingly positive': FDA approves new COVID-19 boosters for children

UNC's first on-campus vaccine clinic opens Wednesday
The first vaccine dose given at UNC’s vaccination clinic is administered in the Student Union on March 31, 2021. As North Carolina began to allow college students to receive coronavirus vaccines, UNC opened a clinic on campus where students can receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Oct. 12 that the monovalent Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been replaced by the bivalent Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines as the authorized booster dose for children.

The monovalent COVID-19 vaccine contains a component from the original strain of COVID-19, while the bivalent vaccine contains both an mRNA component of the original strain and an additional mRNA component to protect against newer Omicron variants of the virus.

Moderna’s vaccine has been approved for children as young as 6 years old while the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for children as young as 5.

Megan Stauffer, a mother of three and the president of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro Mothers Club, said that before her children were vaccinated, they were rarely out in public.

After getting her children vaccinated, Stauffer said that they were able to start having friends over again, but adjusting to their return to school was difficult. She said the pandemic might have forced them to grow up.

“I think they just lost a little bit of innocence,” Stauffer said. “There’s more fear than they probably would have had.”

The two new vaccines are based on the FDA’s analysis of immune response and safety data from previous clinical studies.

Dr. David Weber, a professor of medicine, pediatrics and epidemiology at the UNC School of Medicine, said that multivalent vaccines are very common and that it’s not unusual for people to need periodic boosting to protect against illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said individuals who receive the bivalent vaccine may experience similar side effects to those who received the monovalent vaccine. These side effects include tiredness, headache, muscle pain and underarm swollen lymph nodes.

Weber said COVID-19 is the leading cause of infectious death in children and that anybody who is eligible should get the vaccine.

“Everything we do in life is a risk-benefit analysis," Weber said. “These vaccines, the benefits are overwhelmingly positive compared to the risks.”

Weber said that some children who have COVID-19 develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, and that the vaccine reduces the risk of development of the syndrome.

According to a study done by the CDC, the illness can occur two to six weeks after COVID-19 infection. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced the likelihood of children developing MIS-C by 90 percent.

COVID-19 vaccines can also decrease symptoms of long COVID, according to the British Medical Journal.

A study published in the journal found that individuals who received one vaccine dose reported a 12.8 percent decrease in long COVID symptoms, and those who received a second dose reported an 8.8 percent decrease.

Dr. Cindy Gay, an associate professor of medicine in the medical school's Division of Infectious Diseases, said that these vaccines have been well-studied and have a meaningful impact in preventing hospitalization and death among children.

Stauffer said that while she hopes that the pandemic is mostly behind us, she thinks that children are still in need of support.

Gay said she encourages parents to reach out to their pediatrician for information regarding vaccinating their children. She also said that the CDC is a helpful source of information.

She added that, while parents’ top priority is the safety and well-being of their child, protection from vaccines extends into the various communities a child interacts with.

“It’s a win-win,” Gay said. “It’s a win for the child, it’s a win for their larger community. And for sure if you ask a child if they think it’s important to protect those around them, I’m pretty sure they’re gonna say yeah.”


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