Vaccines ‘a step closer’ for Berkeley kids under 12 after FDA panel recommendation

If approved, Berkeley children would be able to get vaccinated as soon as next week. BUSD has three vaccine clinics planned for November.

Children under 12 years old will likely soon be eligible for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. File photo: Pete Rosos

A panel of advisors recommended Tuesday that the FDA approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in children under 12 years old. The FDA does not have to follow the recommendation, but is expected to follow suit in the next few days.

If approved, vaccines could be available for children ages 5 to 11 as soon as next week.

In anticipation of the approval, Berkeley Unified School District has partnered with the city of Berkeley to organize three vaccine clinics for students and their families at district elementary next month. The clinics will be held at Malcolm X Elementary School Nov. 6, Rosa Parks Nov. 13, and Sylvia Mendez Nov. 20.

“Today’s vote by vaccine advisers to the FDA brings us a step closer to an emergency use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine for more than 4,500 BUSD students ages 5-11,” BUSD Superintendent Brent Stephens said in a statement. “Vaccinations, masking, testing, and symptom screening continue to be highly effective COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies in our schools.”

So far this year, there have been no outbreaks at Berkeley Unified and the number of reported positive weekly cases remains low, even with surveillance testing for students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade.

Children between 5 and 11 years old account for about 9% of reported COVID-19 cases nationwide and are far less likely than adults to experience serious illness due to COVID-19.

The panel, which recommended the vaccine with 17 votes in favor and one abstention, concluded that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 infection outweighed the risks, including that of myocarditis.

The Pfizer vaccine includes a third of the active ingredient as in an adult dose of the vaccine and is 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections.

The approval of the vaccine means some of families who enrolled their children in independent study will be returning in person.

Olivia Lim, a parent and PTA Council treasurer, enrolled her children in independent study this fall and kept them home. Now that the vaccine has been approved for children under 12 years old, Lim is eager to re-enroll her children in person.

“Wish we didn’t have to wait *another* week for the CDC, but we’re almost there!” Lim wrote in a text message. She hopes that BUSD will continue to implement universal masking and regular surveillance testing, even after all students are eligible for the vaccine.

BUSD has “no plans to immediately end surveillance testing of students ages 5-11 with vaccine emergency approval,” district spokesperson Trish McDermott wrote in an email. The district does not offer surveillance testing for students over the age of 12, with the exception of student-athletes participating in high-transmission sports like basketball and wrestling, who are required to get tested weekly.

McDermott wrote the district would “evaluate vaccination levels in late December, as well as disease transmission rates in our local area at that time, prior to considering any changes to our surveillance testing program as well as any other safety protocols.”

Ally Markovich covers education for Berkeleyside. Email: ally@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: allymarkovich.