When 4-year-old Lily and 3-year-old Will visit doctors these days, they're on a mission to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The siblings are some of the youngest participants in the ongoing vaccine trial. With U.S. regulators on Monday approving the emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12, kids in Lily and Will's age group could be next. Their mother Sarah, a nurse, tells News 4 the children had little reaction to the two doses.
The side effects her kids experienced were "very, very minor," Sarah said. "And it goes right along with the adult side effects that we're seeing."
The mother of two says she trusts the science, but she and her husband only enrolled their children in the trial after doing extensive research and after having adult conversations with their kids about the pandemic.
"Understanding the process of how all this happens, I have total confidence," she said. "[The kids] do understand we are part of what's breaking that chain."
"We got in the car afterward and Lily goes, 'Will, we're superheroes now,'" Sarah recalled Lily saying as they were leaving the hospital one day.
The need to vaccinate kids has become increasingly urgent as children now account for 24% of new coronavirus cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Shots for 12-15-year-olds could begin as soon as Thursday, after a federal vaccine advisory committee issues recommendations. An announcement is expected Wednesday.
"Now that we can vaccinate those kids, it's gonna make it much, much easier to get those kids back to school without the anxiety associated with whether or not there's gonna be an outbreak at that level," Dr. Anthony Fauci said.
Trials for children under 5 years old are happening at very few places in the world, including Cincinnati Children's Hospital and New York's Upstate Hospital in Syracuse. But building on the success of the trial for those kids, vaccine trials are now expanding in institutions in the tri-state like Rutgers and Yale.
Ty Dropic was part of the early teen trials, deciding to join with the help of his mom who is a pediatrician. "I wanna hang out with friends, go to movies, take my mask off as soon as possible," the teen said.
Dr. Robert Frenck, the Director of the Gamble Center for Clinical Research at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, says children actually appear to respond better to the vaccines than younger adults. The challenge now is to find the right dose for kids, which is lower than the 30 micrograms given to adults.
"You're trying to find this base where you have the best immune response with the lowest side effect," Frenck explained. "The children's immune system develops very quickly. They could use smaller dose because they do respond well."
New York City officials say they're prepared to vaccinate kids age 12-15 once the FDA gives the final green light. At the mayor's daily news briefing on Monday, Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said the city will use existing vaccine sites to vaccinate kids and there are no plans right now to work with schools.
Parents can search for sites that offer the Pfizer vaccine at nyc.gov/vaccinefinder when the eligibility opens, Chokshi said.
Not sure how the process works? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
The health department is also working with pediatricians to get them ready to answer questions about the vaccine specific to children and also be able to directly administer the vaccine in the pediatrician's offices. The Department of Education is also kept in the loop to educate parents and young adults as well, Chokshi added.
In a Q&A with Dr. Kristin Oliver, a public health specialist and an assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, she answered some of the questions parents may have when it comes to their children getting the shot:
What do you say to parents who are worried?
Dr. Oliver: "The first thing I say to parents is that I definitely recommend this vaccine for children for whom it's approved in this age group now. I think we recognize that although children haven't bore the brunt of the disease, it's still a significant disease in children. So hundreds of children have died from Covid, thousands have been hospitalized. And we can prevent that."
What can parents and kids expect with the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine?
Dr. Oliver: "So what we've seen so far from the data that Pfizer has released from the pubic, is that the side effects are pretty similar to what we've seen in the 16 and 17-year-olds. Things we could see would be pain in the arm where you got the shot, some fatigue, really tired and fevers."
How can parents discuss their concerns with their children's doctors?
Dr. Oliver: "It's always helpful to have your questions written out ahead of time so you make sure you get them all answered before you leave. Recognize that your pediatrician is happy to talk to you about this. Then think about what else you can find out about while you're at that visit."
Finally, Dr. Oliver added that parents should follow up on other vaccines their children may have missed.
"We know that kids have missed a lot of vaccines in the last year. Vaccines are down over 20%…so we want to make sure that all children not only get Covid vaccine when they're eligible but catch up on all their other vaccines too," the pediatrician said.