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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

The Pfizer vaccine could soon be available for kids under 5. Doctors say families should start preparing

Vials of the Pfizer vaccine.
(DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
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The dosage for children younger than 5 is much smaller than it is for older kids and adults.

Pediatric hospitalizations remain high in Florida. Doctors say extending vaccine eligibility to little ones could help protect them in the future.

A St. Petersburg hospital leader is urging families to prepare as federal health officials weigh whether to allow children younger than five to get COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech submitted data on Tuesday to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the efficacy of kids receiving two low doses. Each dose contains 3 micrograms of vaccine, compared to 10 micrograms for kids 5-11 years-old and 30 micrograms for adults and teens.

The data shows that was enough for babies to develop strong immunity, but the company expects preschoolers will need a third dose. The FDA urged Pfizer to apply now while it collects more data so that kids can get the vaccination process started sooner.

Dr. Joseph Perno, chief medical officer at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, said he understands the sense of urgency.

He said the omicron variant has taken a greater toll on children. The number of confirmed pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations in Florida reached record highs during this most recent surge. They remain high, with 196 children hospitalized for COVID statewide as of Feb. 1, according to University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi's dashboard that visualizes state and federal coronavirus data.

Perno said All Children’s is still seeing large numbers of COVID patients, and said about half the children coming in sick with the disease require intensive care.

“We know vaccination is a huge protection from the most severe illness and we want to protect our youngest, most vulnerable patients,” he said.

Now that Pfizer has started the approval process, independent scientists and federal regulators will review the safety and efficacy data before deciding whether to extend emergency use authorization to this age group.

RELATED: When can babies and kids under age 5 get their shots? Here's the timeline

Perno said this could be an important tool in combatting the virus, especially for families who have been anxious to protect their little ones.

“It's going to probably take at least a month before we get the first shots in arms of children under the age of five years, but now is the perfect time to have that conversation with your pediatrician, with a trusted expert, so that hopefully you're prepared and willing to get the shot,” he said.

Perno added that he would like to see more kids ages 5-11 get vaccinated now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 30% of children in that age group have received at least one shot, with about 22% fully vaccinated. The FDA authorized vaccines for that age group last October.

RESOURCE: Where to find COVID-19 vaccines in the Tampa Bay region

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.
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