Eric Cioe-Peña, MD, director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York, told Healthline that herd immunity is when enough people are vaccinated against a virus or pathogen that it can no longer spread easily between people.
“There’s enough protection from individuals getting vaccinated that the whole ‘herd’ is immune,” explained Dr. Cioe-Peña. “For something as contagious as the Delta [variant] of COVID-19, that number is likely above 90 percent, so we are close in some small communities, but the country as a whole isn’t there yet.”
Asked if vaccinating younger children will bring us to herd immunity, he confirmed that it’s “part of the solution.”
“But as long as scores of eligible adults aren’t vaccinated, I don’t think this pandemic is going to end,” Cioe-Peña said.
“According to the CDC, as of October 24, 57.4 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated,” said Robert Glatter, MD, emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
However, he pointed out that even with more than 45 million official COVID-19 infections recorded, “we are not even close” to meeting nationwide vaccination levels necessary for herd immunity.
Dr. Glatter agreed that getting the bulk of the roughly 28 million children 5 to 11 years old fully vaccinated would be “integral” to achieving herd immunity.
“But the reality is that it may be challenging since many parents have already expressed concern about the small risk of myocarditis associated with vaccination, and may ultimately decide that it’s just not worth the risk,” he said.
The FDA reviewed data from an initial study of the Pfizer vaccine given to several thousand children ages 5 to 11 and found no cases of myocarditis or pericarditis with a one-third dose given to teens and adults.
However, this may not convince enough parents to have their children protected.
Cioe-Peña believes that 1-on-1 conversations with trusted healthcare professionals will help counteract “all the noise on social media and out there that scares parents.”
“I’m a parent of a 4 year old and a 6 year old, and my wife and I have no reservations about vaccinating them,” he said.
Cioe-Peña pointed out that disruption to children’s schooling and lives is much more harmful than any potential side effects from the vaccine.
“Vaccines are even better tolerated in kids as compared to adults,” he said. “[The COVID-19] vaccine is safe and effective, and will normalize our children’s lives.”
According to Glatter, parents believe that children are more vulnerable than adults and feel that “their ultimate duty is to protect their children at all costs.”
He explained that what’s needed is a carefully messaged approach by pediatricians speaking with parents. They must make “every effort” to instill practical knowledge regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination against COVID-19.
Glatter confirmed that researchers are still paying close attention to the issue of myocarditis, which has been observed to occur more frequently in children than in middle-aged or older adults.
However, he pointed out that in their modeling of the data based on administering it to millions of children, “they found that the rate of myocarditis would be similar in people ages 12 to 15.”
“The number of ‘clinically significant’ COVID-19 complications prevented would definitively outweigh the risk of vaccine-associated myocarditis cases over a range of levels of COVID-19 infections in the community,” said Glatter.
He emphasized that the risk of COVID-19 complications is significantly greater than that associated with vaccination.
“The bottom line is that the risk of complications from a COVID-19 infection significantly outweigh the risks from a COVID-19 vaccination,” Glatter said.
Federal health officials are considering approval to give Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11, with a possibility that it could start being distributed as soon as early November.
Experts say vaccinating this age group is an essential part of achieving herd immunity, but vaccine hesitancy could stop progress against the pandemic.
They also emphasize that the COVID-19 vaccine is shown to be safe and effective for children, and that the risk of COVID-19 complications in children far outweigh any risk from being vaccinated against COVID-19.