Pfizer says its COVID vaccine is safe and effective for kids aged 5 to 11

Increasingly popular 'test-and-stay' approach allows asymptomatic close contacts to stay in classrooms
By: | September 20, 2021

As administrators do all they can to keep schools open for in-person instruction, many millions of more students will likely be eligible for their COVID vaccines before too much more of the 2021-22 school year passes.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced Monday that two doses of its COVID-19 vaccine provide “robust” protection for children aged 5 to 11 and are also safe and well-tolerated.

The companies will immediately provide federal regulators with the results of its latest trial, in which kids received two smaller doses of the vaccine three weeks apart. They will request emergency-use authorization for the vaccine.

The smaller doses provided the same protection as people aged 16 to 25 receive from their vaccinations, the companies said.

“We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240% in the U.S., underscoring the public health need for vaccination.”

The companies expect to have data on vaccinations for children 2-5 years of age and children 6 months to 2 years before the end of 2021.

New COVID testing solutions

Asymptomatic students and staff who are considered close COVID contacts are being allowed to stay in classrooms in several districts using a new—and increasingly popular—strategy called “test-and-stay.”

In Marietta City Schools in Georgia, asymptomatic students and staff identified as close contacts can attend school and participate in extracurricular activities each day that they receive a negative rapid COVID test administered by the district.

The tests are given at each school, each morning between 6:30 a.m.–8:30 a.m. The program applies only to students and staff who may have been exposed at school. Students and staff who are identified as close contacts of a COVID-positive family member or another person in the community are not eligible for “test and stay.”

In Utah, schools must deploy “test and stay” when they hit a 2% COVID positivity rate. Tooele High School was one of the first schools to shift to the model.

Some 29 of the high school’s 1,404 students received positive tests at school. That number did not include staff and students who were tested elsewhere or those who have opted out of testing.

The state of Massachusetts was one of the first government agencies to introduce the approach for K-12 schools. Barnstable Public Schools on Cape Cod is among the districts that are now offering “test and stay.”

Studies in both the U.S. and England have shown the effectiveness of “test and stay.” A CDC study in Utah found that the model saved an estimated 109,752 in-person instruction student-days and facilitated the completion of approximately 95% of high school extracurricular competitions.

In England, researchers found that daily testing of close contacts was as effective as quarantines were at preventing the spread of COVID.

“Infection rates in school-based contacts were low, with very few school contacts testing positive,” the study said. “Daily contact testing should be considered for implementation as a safe alternative to home isolation following school-based exposures.”