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'Finally': Parents react to FDA endorsing COVID vaccines for kids under 5

FDA advisers recommend that both Moderna and Pfizer COVID vaccines for kids under 5 be authorized for emergency use. Parents are both angry and relieved.
/ Source: TODAY

Food and Drug Administration advisers voted unanimously to recommend authorizing two COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5, and parents with small children are reacting.

On Wednesday, the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommended that both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccines for children under 5 be granted emergency use authorization.

The committee recommended both vaccines unanimously, with a 21-0 vote.

Related: COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 5: What parents need to know about safety, efficacy

The FDA is expected to grant emergency use for both vaccines by early next week. An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will then hold a vote on whether or not to endorse the shots. If endorsed, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky must sign-off on public use before parents will be able to make vaccination appointments for their eligible children.

If authorized for emergency use, the Moderna vaccine will be available for children ages 6 months to 5 years. Kids 6 months to 4 years of age will be eligible for Pfizer's vaccine.

TODAY Parents spoke to seven parents with children under 5 who were willing to share what access to a COVID-19 vaccine for their kids means for them and their families. Their comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Dr. Anita Patel, 39, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Patel is a pediatric critical care doctor and mom to a 2-year-old toddler.

"I have been taking care of COVID-19 patients in the pediatric ICU since I was 36 weeks pregnant and just two and a half months after giving birth. I had my child one month into lockdown. With all this in mind, I can say with absolute certainty that when I heard the unanimous 21-0 vote — as both a mother to my 2-year-old pandemic baby and a pediatric critical care physician — I was both thrilled and felt a wave of anxiety melt from my core.

"My daughter has barely done indoor activities this entire pandemic, outside of daycare. The mental and physical juggling of trying to protect a less than 2-year-old who can’t mask from this insidious virus not only limited our daily life, but was also a constant source of anxiety.

"Getting this added protection will finally quell my mom- and pediatrician-heart's worries. I know it's possible that my 2-year-old can still get infected after the shot, but at least I will know she has excellent protection against severe disease, hospitalization, death and long Covid.

"This vaccine means more than just protection against this insidious disease — it means I get a piece of my brain and heart back after two long years."

Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka, 34, Washington

Hawkins-Jedlicka is a public relations professor and has a 2-year-old son.

"I was very excited. I probably let out a few curse words in my office, loudly to myself. It is just a relief.

"It has been such a hard back-and-forth, especially with parents in this age range, getting our hopes up and getting them dashed. Me and my husband both work, so it's been really hard to try to navigate this. It's been just a wild roller coaster of stress and emotion and anxiety.

"And we don't have family close. My kid has never met his great grandparents. I just don't feel safe putting an unvaccinated 2-year-old on a plane.

"Our life has just been really small. We've had to make compromises in our lives just to function, so it's nice to know that can stop making those compromises. I can sign my kid up for this and we'll actually do it. I can send him to daycare and feel more secure. It'll be a little safer than it was before."

Griffen Miller, 36, Colorado

Miller is an administrative assistant and father of three, ages 15, 9 and 3.

"It has been rough. We have two school aged kids and never knew when or what they were bringing home. It was like playing Russian roulette. 

"So, honestly, I thought it was about time. We went so long without protection for that age group. It didn’t make sense. 

"Our daughter doesn't have any health issues that would prevent us from getting her vaccinated, so she'll be getting the shot. And I think I'll just feel relief.

"I know it’s not a cure all, but it’s at least some armor for her immune system." 

Dr. Shikha Jain, 41, Illinois

Dr. Jain is a medical oncologist and a mother of three, an 8-year-old daughter and twin 4-year-old sons.

"It has been extremely hard for all of us. My daughter was so excited to get vaccinated the first chance she could get it — despite the fact she is not a fan of shots — but then was frustrated because she continued to have to turn down certain opportunities and invitations because her brothers were still not protected. As everyone has returned to 'normal,' our family has continued to mask, dine outdoors, and turned down invitations to events that may be higher risk. 

"What many people forget is that if a child contracts COVID, it doesn’t just impact that individual. Childcare becomes a challenge, exposure to other vulnerable family members and finding coverage for work, while taking care of a sick child and 'working from home' or quarantining your children every time they have an exposure or close contact — it has become the new normal for many with kids under 5. And this has been simply unsustainable, and then people wonder why so many women are leaving the workforce.

"So I will be first in line. Our whole family has been waiting for this day for a long time. When my now-8-year-old was able to get her vaccine, she woke up early that day for school, jumped out of bed and said she couldn’t wait to get her vaccine. She is excited to have her brothers vaccinated too, because she knows it protects all of us and knows it will allow her and her brothers to participate in more activities safely."

Steph Herold, 34, New York

Herold is a researcher and mother of two, ages 4 and 14 months.

"We’ve felt utterly abandoned by the very institutions that are supposed to prioritize the health and well-being of everyone, especially children, and gaslit by leaders and peers who say covid “isn’t that bad” for kids, so we shouldn’t complain. I don’t want my children to get sick, period. That should be enough.

"So I felt both a huge relief that this hopefully means our children will finally be able to be vaccinated, and a level of anger that makes me want to self-combust with rage that it has taken this long for the FDA to consider the lives of our children worth prioritizing.

"It’s truly unconscionable how long it’s taken them to approve this vaccine. An epic public health failure of the highest magnitude. Honestly, because of how many times they’ve said the vaccine is almost here and then rescinded that information, I will not believe my children will get vaccines until the shots are in their arms.

"I will make the soonest possible appointments, and I hope to allow myself to feel some joy that our kids will finally have protection from serious infection from covid. But honestly, I need to see them get the vaccines first." 

Dr. Vineet Arora, 45, Illinois

Dr. Arora is a physician executive and mom of two, ages 7 and 2.

"While I'm happy that kids under 5 finally have an option, in my opinion this is coming way too late. The needs of working parents and caregivers of young children have been largely ignored during the pandemic. 

"We have been very careful since we have an unvaccinated 2-year-old and other at-risk family members, including those who help care for my children. Unfortunately, my 2-year-old got covid a few weeks ago from my school-age child. Then I got it, too. 

"It sounds like no big deal — people think, 'OK, you can isolate and work from home.' What people forget is that it's hard enough to take care of sick kids, let alone be sick yourself. And even when I got better, I actually had to isolate with him for 10 days with no childcare since he can’t mask well. 

"So yes, I am glad to see progress. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is too late. And while I feel fortunate to have stable employment and means, the hard truth is that many working families don’t have the tools they need — like paid sick leave and family leave — to get through cycles of rolling infection through their household, or the reinfection that we are already starting to see."

Diane, 35, Washington

Diane, who asked that her last name be omitted to protect her privacy, is a clinical researcher and has a 16-month-old son.

"'Finally!' was my initial thought. It’s felt like a really long wait, so to be one step closer to the light at the end of the tunnel is really hopeful. 

 "We’ve missed out on so many friends and family get-togethers. We opted out of sending him to daycare. Additionally, my husband hasn’t seen his family in Peru since before the pandemic — our son hasn’t met his father’s family. Traveling internationally with an unvaccinated toddler is not an option for us, and it’s caused a lot of sadness, frustration, and stress.

"What we thought it would be like to raise a baby and a toddler has been flipped completely upside down. Raising a child in the middle of a pandemic, much less a child we are unable to vaccinate, has been nothing short of terrible. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. 

"When he's vaccinated, I hope to feel relieved and perhaps a little less scared for my child — it’s one less thing to have in the back of my mind. Parenthood is hard enough." 

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