Wearing masks, hand sanitizing and keeping six feet apart are required for returning San Jose Unified School District students. Photo courtesy of SJUSD.
A San Jose Unified School District student gets hand sanitizer from a dispenser. File photo.

    Washington, D.C.—As students nationwide return to in-person learning, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) is calling on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update Congress about the development of a COVID-19 vaccination for children.

    Three COVID vaccines are currently available in the United States, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer recently obtained full approval from the FDA, while the other two are permitted for emergency use authorization. But none of the vaccines can be given to kids younger than 12.

    Scott Gottlieb, a member of Pfizer’s board of directors and former FDA commissioner, said over the weekend that the company’s COVID shot could be available to children younger than 12 later this year.

    Khanna, along with Rep. Katie Porter (D-Orange County), sent a joint letter to acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock earlier this month stating parents are concerned about sending unvaccinated children back to school during a pandemic.

    “As transmission rates increase and schools reopen for in-person instruction, parents need to know when their kids will be able to get vaccinated,” they wrote. “…No pharmaceutical company has applied for an emergency use authorization and clinical studies are ongoing. Data from these trials was expected by September, but recent FDA requests to increase the size and scope of the studies may delay the results.”

    The letter further requested specific information, such as how long it will take the FDA to review the safety and efficacy data once the studies are complete, and whether the agency foresees any barriers that may slow the process down.

    More than 100 other representatives endorsed the statement, including Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose).

    Most of Santa Clara County’s 263,000 students returned to in-person learning earlier this month. In a previous statement to San José Spotlight, Santa Clara County officials acknowledged there are some risks involved with re-opening schools.

    “We anticipate there will be COVID-19 cases,” they wrote. “However, we have to balance the risks of COVID-19 in schools with the considerable harm that comes from children missing in-person learning.”

    Ashley Cheechoo, incoming president for the San Jose Unified Council of Parent Teacher Associations, said she cannot speak on behalf of all members. But she personally appreciates that legislators are pushing the FDA for more information.

    Her son, Jack, returned to elementary school earlier this month. Cheechoo said she’s confident public schools in San Jose are enforcing all the proper safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID. But she’ll feel some relief when there’s a vaccine available for kids younger than 12.

    “What helps to ease people’s anxiety is information, so I hope the FDA can come before Congress and give parents an update,” she told San José Spotlight. “That would be really helpful.”

    San Jose resident Jessica Nemire is also pleased lawmakers are pressing for answers. Nemire, who has two daughters attending Booksin Elementary School, believes updates from the FDA will help prevent the spread of disinformation.

    “When people aren’t getting information from a trusted source, they’re going to go out and look for it on their own and then there’s a greater chance of getting misinformation,” she told San José Spotlight.

    More than 4.59 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A recent report from the organization found child infections initially declined in the early summer before experiencing a sharp spike this month.

    In a recent letter to the FDA, the academy urges the administration to work aggressively toward authorizing a safe vaccine for children.

    “We understand that the FDA has recently worked with Pfizer and Moderna to double the number of children ages 5-11 years included in clinical trials of their COVID-19 vaccines,” the letter reads. “…In our view, the rise of the Delta variant changes the risk-benefit analysis for authorizing vaccines in children. The FDA should strongly consider authorizing these vaccines for children ages 5-11 years based on data from the initial enrolled cohort.”

    Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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