Samaya Pupiro Covid-19 vaccine shot at Excelsior Strong Latino Task Force New Covid-10 vaccine site in Excelsior District
Samaya Pupiro, 18, is among the first to receive a Covid-19 vaccine at the new vaccination site in the Excelsior District. Photo by Annika Hom. Taken Apr. 7, 2021.

Researchers from UC San Francisco expressed enthusiastic support for Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old, and analyzed the Pfizer data on Monday morning with their Latino Task Force partners. 

“I will be bringing my 6-year-old [to be vaccinated] when it’s time,” said Dr. Carina Marquez, a UCSF professor and epidemiologist. “I think the benefits of this vaccine certainly outweigh the risks, and I think the data supports its use.”  

The risks were minor, she pointed out in a review of the data Pfizer submitted to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The 2021 trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5-to-11 year-olds enrolled nearly 4,500 children, and the vaccine stimulated a strong immune response: 91 percent efficacy, Marquez said. 

She considered the vaccine to be “well-tolerated” or safe in this younger demographic, with no adverse reactions and no covid hospitalizations or deaths. 

Among the vaccinated group, there were three breakthrough cases of covid, compared to 17 cases in the unvaccinated comparison group. Moreover, the vaccinated group had fewer and less severe symptoms than the comparison group. 

The caveat is that the study size was on the smaller side compared to those performed for other age groups, she said.

“We may not be able to detect those rare events that we had seen in adolescents,” she said, including the rare occurrence of events like inflammation of the heart muscle and its outer lining that occurred in a few 12-to-18-year-olds after covid vaccination.

Marquez and Dr. Diane Havlir, who also presented to the group, stressed that children need to be vaccinated not only for the individual health benefits, but to reduce transmission within the families and communities where they live. 

Children also stand to benefit, said Marquez, since extended school closures and recurring quarantines can wear on their social and emotional wellbeing. 

Practically speaking, a lower risk of getting covid would also change a lot for families who can’t find or afford childcare when covid exposures at school send kids home to quarantine. According to updated guidance, fully vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine after close contact with a case, as long as they do not have symptoms.

Before the vaccines are rolled out, the FDA will review Cormirnaty — the vaccine’s brand name — tomorrow to assess its safety and the company’s ability to manufacture it sufficiently for 5-to-11-year-olds. The CDC is expected to complete its review on Nov. 2 and 3. 

If the agency provides the go-ahead, Marquez said she expects local rollout for younger children by the second or third week of November.

The researchers were also enthusiastic about the data around adult boosters. For Havlir, a professor of HIV and infectious diseases at the University of California, San Francisco, who has led the research, testing and vaccination campaigns in the Mission District, it’s good news on top of good news.

“Vaccines work fantastically,” she said, referring to their protection against hospitalizations and death. But protection wanes over time.

“The farther out a person is from the vaccine, the less protection it provides,” she said, adding it also matters how healthy you are and to what degree you mask and follow other covid precautions.

“What we now know is that we can beat this waning protection with another shot,” she said, citing a study from Israel where rates of covid and severity of the disease were lower among the booster group. “Vaccine plus boost is the best schedule.” 

Guidance on boosters continues to evolve as the pandemic evolves in real time. The CDC currently defines booster-eligible populations as those who received the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago and who are 65 years and older, or who are 18 years or older in special circumstances. San Franciscans who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago are eligible for a supplemental shot of either Pfizer or Moderna.

The Pfizer group is allowed to “mix and match” their booster brand; they can receive Moderna or Pfizer as a booster six months after their second dose.

“In my opinion, they’re all good.” said Havlir, who has already received her booster. Until they get the go-ahead from the Department of Health, Havlir said, people who have had Moderna vaccines will have to wait for their booster.

The Latino Task Force and partners are hosting several community events to encourage Covid testing and vaccination in lieu of Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos celebrations this week.

Fliers in English and Spanish:

The San Francisco Department of Public Health and community partners have been planning for the booster and vaccine rollouts since last month.

DPH said in late September that they anticipate having the capacity to give 25,000 vaccine doses per week across nearly 100 vaccination sites in the city, including at designated schools. They plan to prioritize first and second doses, including for 5-to-11-year-olds as they become eligible.

Local efforts, like the Unidos en Salud testing and vaccination site at 24th & Capp streets, an alliance between UCSF and the Latino Task Force, are also preparing for the rollouts. 

Site lead Susana Rojas said the preparation involves “making sure [the site] is less threatening and more welcoming for kids” to include cheerful decorations, separating adult and child vaccination stations, and adding personnel who are experienced in working with children.

“We see adults who are scared of needles, so we expect that from the little ones,” she added. “We want them to feel welcome and loved and appreciated while they’re getting their vaccines.”

They’ll continue to offer incentives, like prize drawings for gift cards and a Nintendo Switch offered in the past. 

Despite these efforts, she and others involved in Latino Task Force efforts still expect some hesitation. “I think it’s natural as a parent to be a little hesitant,” said Marquez. “Parents want as much information as they can have to make that decision.”

When asked how to encourage parents to vaccinate their younger children, Marquez said it has to be about “engaging in that dialogue about what the concerns are.” She also said the group should reference the success they had in vaccinating 12 to 17 year olds.

Other attendees brainstormed strategies for reaching parents and addressing their concerns about vaccinating smaller children and will be collecting specific questions from families.

They put on a united front. “We’re just really excited to be able to protect our little ones,” said Rojas, “and help bring up the amount of people who are vaccinated higher so we can create community immunity.”

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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