Mississippi children aged 5-11 are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, expanding full access to vaccination to the widest range of Mississippians in the pandemic. As of Monday, state health departments across the Magnolia State are delivering free shots of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine to school-aged children. Parents looking to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 should sign up at the Mississippi State Department of Health’s scheduling website or speak to their primary care providers to schedule a dose elsewhere.

“We are pleased this has finally been approved,” State Epidemiologist Paul Byers said in a statement. “We recommend that all children 5 and older in Mississippi be vaccinated against COVID-19.” MSDH announced that it has already ordered 51,000 doses of vaccine for Mississippi’s young children.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has now been extensively tested on children in this age group. The child version of the vaccine is the same formulation as the one used in millions of vaccinations across the globe dating back to late 2020. While Pfizer’s adult dosage is 30µg (micrograms) of vaccine, children will receive two 10µg doses 21 days apart.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, answers a reporter's question on the types of medical personnel that are to be provided to multiple hospitals statewide to meet the staffing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at a news briefing Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021 in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
State Epidemiologist Paul Byers “recommend(s) that all children 5 and older in Mississippi be vaccinated against COVID-19.” AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The company’s study enrolled 2,268 participants aged 5 to 11, developing a similar immune response to teenaged recipients of the regular 30µg dose. The Pfizer vaccine has now been approved for children under an Emergency Use Authorization (the same process through which adults received access to the vaccine) with the consent of the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky explained the case for the Pfizer vaccine on social media. “Data on the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine showed no cases of severe side effects in children ages 5-11. It is safe and over 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. Getting our younger kids vaccinated is crucial to preventing spread of the virus.”

Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the Crirec on Nov. 5 that the available data strongly supported childhood vaccination. “To protect children, along with their parents, teachers, and friends—to keep schools open; not to mention (to prevent) long COVID; to put this pandemic behind us, it’s critical to get kids vaccinated. It’s a very low dose, and everything we have tells us the vaccine is safe and highly effective.

Topol is relieved his own family will now be fully vaccinated against the virus. “My 7-year old grandson is getting his vaccine in the next few days,” he said.

Parents looking to vaccinate their children should inform the vaccine provider of their child’s allergies, any instances of myocarditis, bleeding disorders, active fevers, immunocompromising conditions or fainting during previous injections.

Mississippi has seen 88,533 youth cases of COVID-19, which includes newborns to 17-year-olds. Nine deaths have occurred in the same age group. But death is not the only negative outcome from COVID-19, with 260 children aged 17 or younger hospitalized with COVID-19 to date here during the pandemic.

Smiling headshot of Eric Topol on a white background
Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the Crirec that vaccinating young children was key to keeping schools open. Photo by Michael Balderas

Of the tens of thousands of children who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, as well as the uncountable portion who have caught the disease without being formally diagnosed, an unknown number continue to suffer from the confusing array of long-term health effects and autoimmune disorders collectively known as long covid.

Dr. Carlos Oliviera explained to Yale Medicine that the prevalence of lingering harm from COVID is difficult to establish. “We are likely only identifying the adolescents who can self-report their symptoms,” Oliviera said.

But, increasingly, medical experts are worried that long-term damage to children from COVID-19 is beginning to manifest.

Previously, Mississippi diabetes experts warned the Crirec of a growing wave of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in Mississippi’s pediatric diagnoses. In September, Dr. Jessica Lilley of the Mississippi Center for Advanced Medicine warned that “those of us who tracked it have noticed anywhere from a 30% to 40% increase compared to (2019).”

COVID-19 has returned to a low degree of spread across Mississippi after the all-time peaks of the delta surge. But experts and public-health officials say that vaccination is key to avoiding spikes in the future, regardless of which variants emerge next.

Nick Judin began his career in journalism at the Jackson Free Press in 2019, coming on as State Reporter to cover the 2020 legislative session. That posting quickly gave way to a year leading the JFP’s COVID-19 coverage. Nick’s reports from the frontline of coronavirus have repeatedly made national headlines, as he has asked hard questions of state leadership and done critical interviews with the state’s top public-health experts. Email the Jackson, Miss., native at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nickjudin.