With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention giving clearance late Tuesday for the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 in the United States, and Gov. Phil Murphy tweeting Wednesday that shots could begin immediately in New Jersey for that age group, many parents in the Garden State will be making a decision in the coming weeks about whether to inoculate their kids.

Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School was a participant in clinical trials for the pediatric version of the Pfizer COVID shot, involving more than 4,600 children worldwide. Approximately 28 million American children are now eligible under the CDC's emergency use authorization.

Dr. Sunanda Gaur, RWJ Medical School professor of pediatric infectious diseases and director of the Pediatric Clinical Research Center there, elaborated on three key questions that may be on the minds of parents as kid-sized vaccine doses become available.

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What led federal regulators to recommend a smaller dose (one-third) for this age group as opposed to people age 12 and up?

Gaur said these kids' smaller size and metabolism were determining factors, as was the proportion of antibody response.

"This is a dose that is immunogenic, which means it can produce antibodies as required, as well as lesser in terms of side effect," she said.

What side effects have been observed in kids ages 5 to 11, and how severe can they be expected to be?

"The side effect profile is very good," Gaur said. "It's mild fever, body aches, sore arm, some redness at the injection site."

Gaur added that the overall effect of the reduced dose going into these smaller bodies so far has been twofold: milder side effects, but perhaps better efficacy with regard to virus protection than in many adults.

However, she did caution that the sample size of young kids who've gotten the vaccine is still small itself.

What about kids under 5? When will a vaccine dosage be authorized for the youngest New Jerseyans?

Gaur said studies are underway now, at Rutgers and nationwide, involving children aged six months up through four years.

"That enrollment, hopefully, will be completed in the next month, month and a half or so, and so those data, I think, probably will be early next year," she said.

And one additional, speculative question: Could the COVID-19 vaccine eventually be among the many immunizations offered to newborns, possibly giving them lifelong protection?

In Gaur's opinion, that's a little less certain.

"Whether or not this will become part of the routine pediatric immunization package just remains to be seen," she said.

Overall, Gaur said the vaccines have been proven safe and effective in adults and older children, around 1 billion of whom have gotten the shots worldwide, and that although pediatric deaths from COVID-19 are rare, they do happen. Vaccinating more kids may help prevent such tragedies.

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