Our best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic is vaccination. Immunization of children and their parents is crucial for a return to traditional school schedules, religious services, extra-curricular activities, athletic competition and domestic and international travel. The COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been one of the largest, fastest, safest and most successful in history, with over 1 billion doses given worldwide and over 237 million doses in the United States. The vaccine is now available for everyone 16 years and older.

COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States and ongoing trials: The Food Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna (both a two-dose series), and Johnson & Johnson (single-dose) vaccines. These vaccines are highly effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection and even more effective at preventing severe COVID-19 disease. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are expected to apply soon for full FDA licensure and will likely obtain it this summer. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine currently approved for ages 16 and older.

COVID vaccine trials in children younger than 16 are in progress. Preliminary data from these studies is promising and suggests efficacy for children on par with adults. We are hopeful vaccinations for children younger than 16 will begin by late summer or early fall. Manufacturers are conducting ongoing trials for children ages 12 to 15, with hope that a vaccine will be available by late spring or early summer. Pfizer-BioNTech trials to date in this age range report 100% efficacy with no significant safety concerns. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are conducting vaccine trials for children 6 months to 11 years. Health officials estimate availability for this age group in early 2022.

Vaccination facts and the importance of vaccinating children: Brenton Nesemeier, field epidemiologist and North Dakota Public Health official, commented, “Teenagers by nature are social beings. They are in a wide range of activities from sports, drama/theater, academics, and many more. They also congregate in close proximity at lunch, in the classroom, after school and while bussing. Higher vaccination rates will ensure that these important activities can continue uninterrupted.”

Immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases is one of the single most important breakthroughs in public health and has a long track record of safety. Vaccine-preventable illness outbreaks may occur as a result of delayed routine childhood vaccines from the pandemic and overdue well-child visits. The COVID-19 vaccines cannot be given within 14 days of other childhood vaccines.

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Children under 18 make up around 24% of the U.S. population, and we will need a large majority of them vaccinated to prevent outbreaks. Immunizing children protects the child, their families, and society. Children have better antibody responses to vaccination and have more durable immunity throughout their lives, which leads to less background disease activity and better herd immunity. Fully vaccinated adolescents with no symptoms do not need to quarantine or be tested following a COVID exposure.

Youth sports are a magnet for outbreaks, and vaccination is a safe way to ensure kids can participate. Vaccines reduce death and the secondary impacts of COVID-19 infection in children and adults. Newer COVID variants are more contagious and seem to cause more severe illness, even in younger people, making vaccination even more important. COVID has hospitalized almost 15,000 children through 4/15/21 (similar to a typical year for influenza) and killed almost 300 children (more than double a typical year for influenza); vaccine trial results suggest that these deaths could have been prevented with a COVID-19 vaccine.

Infectious disease physician and vaccine expert Dr. Paul Carson stated: “The only way we can come close to getting back to normal is if a large majority of us are vaccinated. Otherwise, expect ongoing mini-outbreaks, more variants, more disruptions and cancellations and a prolonged need for mask requirements.”

Community COVID vaccine availability: COVID-19 vaccines are available for every North Dakotan over 16. Vaccines are currently available through local Public Health offices, Essentia, Sanford, CHI St. Alexius, Altru, Trinity, and other local pharmacies, hospitals and clinics throughout North Dakota. Visit vaccinefinder.org to find availability. Pediatricians and other community healthcare providers are experts in vaccination and your child’s health.

Returning for routine well-child visits, back-to-school vaccines and the COVID-19 vaccine are essential to keep our communities safe.

Pediatricians Dr. Grant Severson and Dr. Tracie Newman are from Fargo. More than 60 pediatric and other health care providers from around North Dakota, along with public health organizations, signed on in support.

Tracie Newman, MD, MPH; Grant Syverson, MD; Paul Carson, MD; Avish Nagpal, MD; Jennifer Raum, MD; David Newman, MD; Stephanie Hanson, MD; Parag Kumar, MD; Jagila Minso, MD; Carrie Ann Ranum, MD; Koye Oyerinde, MD, DrPH; Sarah Lien, MD; Molly Linn, DO; Stephen Tinguely, MD; Melissa Horner, MD; Amy Oksa, MD; Myra Quanrud, MD; Kurt Kooyer, MD; Rafael Ocejo, MD; Robert Montgomery,MD; Thomas Carver, DO; Brandon Meyer, MD; Julie Kenien Erpelding, MD; Natalie Dvorak, MD; Vanessa Nelson, MD; Lori Sondrol, MD; Patrick Welle, MD; Christina DaSilva, DO; Melissa Kunkel, MD; Maria Weller, MD; Stephen Nelson, MD; Bonnie Kvistad, MD; Jordan Coauette, MD; Justin Horner, MD, MPH; Brennan Forward, MD; Stephanie Antony, MD; Jennifer Mullally, MD; Stefanie Hanisch, MD; Melanie Chihak, DO; Brenda Thurlow, MD; Clifford Mauriello, MD; Rebecca Bakke, MD; Pamela McGrann, MD; Samantha Perleberg, MD; Chris Cleveland, MD; Carla Zacher, MD; Alison Hornyak, DO; Lidia Krasniewska, MD; Chris Tiongson, MD; Kari Casas, MD; Ashley Benson, DNP, FNP-C; Samantha Porter, APRN, CNP; Kari Solberg, APRN, CNP; Caitlin Hemquist, CPNP-PC; Amanda Oney, CPNP; Sarah Paur, APRN, CPNP; Rebecca Preussler, PsyD; Danielle Vaughn, LMSW; Carrie Brower-Breitwieser, PhD; Joan Connell, MD, Chair, NDMA Physicians Advisory Group; North Dakota Public Health Association; NDSU Center for Immunization Research and Education; North Dakota State Association of City and County Health Officials.