Mimi Allen has two daughters, 14 and 10. She is raising them alone. They are her world.
So while the Phoenix financial adviser doesn’t usually go for rule-breaking, she recently decided to slip into a local pharmacy and get her younger daughter a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, which is approved only for those 12 and older.
Allen told her immunocompromised daughter the plan, fibbed about her child’s age at the counter and walked out relieved.
“I’m a mother who needs to keep her children safe, and if the governor here had mandated masks in school, I might have thought differently,” said Allen, 55, who declined to give her daughters’ names out of concern for any backlash. “I’m an ethical person. But after my daughters, my concern is me. If they get it and pass it on and I’m hospitalized or dead, my kids are in trouble.”
Allen’s quandary is shared by millions of Americans who, as schools go back in session, ponder the best way to keep their vaccine-ineligible young ones safe as the delta variant continues its rampage and some state leaders resist in-school mask mandates.
Having a child under 12 receive, the vaccine raises medical and ethical questions and can bring justifications that can range from understandable to specious. Among the former: Children with underlying conditions deserve a shot considering the alternative. The latter: With many people declining the vaccine, one might as well use a dose, although doses are still needed for at-risk adult holdouts.
When asked their opinion, doctors and ethicists gave USA TODAY a unanimous verdict: Though the temptation is understandable, getting a child the COVID-19 vaccine introduces risks that may outweigh the benefits.
“I know there’s a lot of anxiety out there, but it really doesn’t justify going outside the lines,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, an infectious diseases specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. “The No. 1 issue with any vaccine is safe for the patient.”
O’Leary is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Their CEO recently sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to speed approval of vaccines for those under 12, leveraging data compiled from ongoing trials.
Most experts predict such approval could come as early as this fall but as late as early winter.
The FDA is in a race against the clock on a few fronts. When it comes to adults, some Americans have said they will get a shot only when the agency gives full, versus just emergency, approval of the vaccines. The Biden administration has said that may happen next month.
And for kids, delaying even emergency approval – which could happen if the FDA decides to add children to its current trial – raises the stakes as hospitals increasingly see younger unvaccinated patients.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, last week saw the most significant leap since the pandemic began of pediatric COVID-19 cases, about 72,000 from 39,000 the previous week. Doctors in hard-hit states such as Kentucky and Texas report that some children are being put on ventilators.