October 28, 2021

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Pfizer Seeks Green Light for Covid-19 Vaccine for Young Children – What’s News

This transcript was prepared by a transcription service. This version may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Annmarie Fertoli: A COVID-19 vaccine may soon be available for kids ages five to 11.

Jonathan D. Rockoff: It could just be a couple of weeks actually, or at least a matter of weeks. We’re talking between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Annmarie Fertoli: We’ll talk more about what parents and guardians need to know. Plus, stocks rose after lawmakers reached a short-term deal on the debt ceiling, and outdoor dining is getting an upgrade. It’s Thursday, October 7. I’m Annmarie Fertoli for totally for the wall street journal. This is the PM edition of What’s News, the top headlines and business stories that moved the world today.
After a late night of negotiations, Democrats and Republicans have reached a short-term deal on the debt limit, putting off, for now, a possible government default. Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer.

Chuck Schumer: We have reached agreement to extend the debt ceiling through early December, and it’s our hope that we can get this done as soon as today.

Annmarie Fertoli: A Senate aide said the agreement would raise the borrowing limit by $480 billion, the amount that Treasury Department says it needs to meet its obligations until December 3. After the Senate holds a final vote, the legislation would still need to be approved by the House.
US stocks climbed higher on the news of the deal. Gains were brought as shares of everything from technology to energy rose. The Dow was up 338 points, or nearly a percent, the S&P 500 rose 0.8%m, and the NASDAQ gained a percent.
Initial jobless claims dropped for the first time in four weeks, falling by 38,000 and bringing seasonally adjusted claims down to 364,000. Separately, the number of continued jobless claims dropped sharply after several federal pandemic benefits ended last month. Job openings have continued to exceed the number of unemployed workers and tomorrow’s jobs report will show the extent to which people are finding work. Economists are expecting the unemployment rate to a fallen 0.1% between August and September.
Ireland has signed onto a global agreement to set a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%. The low tax country has been among a handful of holdouts on the plan, which aims to curb tax avoidance. The decision to sign onto the deal is considered a concession to Ireland’s key allies, including the US. Ireland is home to the European headquarters of most of the largest US technology firms. We’ll have more on the implications of the deal in tomorrow morning’s show.
Coming up, what a COVID-19 vaccine for kids could mean for families and the battle against the pandemic.
A COVID-19 vaccine for younger children could be available within weeks. Pfizer and BioNTech announced today that they’re asking federal regulators to authorize their vaccine for children ages five to 11. The company say kids would need two injections of the shot, three weeks apart, but at a lower dosage than adolescents and adults. For some parents, that’s welcome news, but others have been concerned about the safety of vaccines for their kids and possible mandates. Joining me now to talk about the science and the risks and rewards is Wall Street Journal health business editor, Jonathan Rockoff. Hi, Jonathan, thanks for being here.

Jonathan D. Rockoff: Hi, Annmarie, great to see you.

Annmarie Fertoli: Jonathan, can you tell us about the timeline going forward now that Pfizer has submitted to the FDA approval? How soon could it be before we see these going out to market?

Jonathan D. Rockoff: It could just be a couple of weeks actually, or at least a matter of weeks. We’re talking between Halloween and Thanksgiving. There’s this whole process that companies have to go through to get their drugs and vaccines cleared by the regulators so that people can start taking them. We’ve seen this before with all of the COVID vaccines that have hit the market and that we’re getting in our arms. Pfizer, today, filed the formal request with the Food and Drug Administration to have that vaccine authorized for five to 11 year olds.
What’s next up is the FDA staff are going to review that application. What they do is they go into the data from the clinical trial and actually take a look at it and see if it supports, as the company says it does, that the vaccine works safely in five to 11 year olds. Then the FDA staff will send this data to a group of outside experts, people who are at the top of their fields in vaccines and other health areas. The experts will review what the FDA staff found and then give a recommendation to the agency about what it should do, for instance, should it authorize the vaccine for five to 11 year olds. Then after all that is said and done, then the FDA actually issues their own decision.

Annmarie Fertoli: Let’s talk about the risk of COVID for kids. We did see during the Delta variant that the number of hospitalizations for children went up. Can you tell us a little bit more about the overall risks at this stage in the pandemic?

Jonathan D. Rockoff: The risks for severe COVID in kids is relatively low, which is great news. It’s not as high as it is in the elderly, for instance, who are really vulnerable, especially vulnerable to severe disease if they get infected. But that’s not all we should be looking at according to public health and health experts, because kids, even if they have a mild case of COVID, they can still transmit it to other kids, to adults, to grandparents, family members. From a public health perspective, that’s a real problem, especially with kids going back to school. The reasons why doctors and other health authorities argue for kids getting vaccinated is not only to protect the kids themselves, but to protect their loved ones in the communities around them. But all that said, the relative risk for the kids of a severe case of COVID is low.

Annmarie Fertoli: Now, this is really good news for a lot of parents who have been waiting for a vaccine for their kids. What are you hearing from them about the risk assessments they’re making over whether to get their children inoculated or not, and what their major concerns are right now?

Jonathan D. Rockoff: I think it’s looking a lot like what it has looked like for adults who were trying to decide whether to get vaccinated themselves. We don’t know exactly what people are going to do, but there’s been some surveys out there and it’s found that a third of parents are going to jump on the opportunity to get their young kids vaccinated as soon as they can, but there’s a much larger percentage of parents who aren’t going to do it immediately. A chunk of those are parents who want to wait and see, they’re just a little bit hesitant, concerned about safety for understandable reasons and just want to sit back and wait and see how things are looking before they get their kids vaccinated. Then there’s a group of parents who don’t want to get their kids vaccinated at all.

Annmarie Fertoli: What else have we learned about potential side effects?

Jonathan D. Rockoff: One of the issues that we’ve seen arise with the messenger RNA vaccines, like Pfizer’s, is this rare, but still significant, risk of an inflammatory heart condition called myocarditis. Usually this doesn’t happen, and when it does, it resolves fairly quickly, but in some cases it can be serious. We’ve seen it more in people with younger ages and especially in younger males. Just today, Norway restricted use of the Moderna vaccine, which is a messenger RNA vaccine, to certain age groups because of myocarditis. Now, the Pfizer study assessing its vaccine in the five to 11 year olds didn’t have any cases of myocarditis. The risk is probably low, based on the study results, but we know that studies aren’t comprehensive and that they don’t necessarily tell us what’s going to happen in the real world because studies are conducted under specific conditions and it’s only a certain number of people. If we have a rare event like myocarditis, it might not get picked up in a study of just a few thousand people.

Annmarie Fertoli: Well, we’ve seen a patchwork of school policies when it comes to masking and vaccine guidance. How might approval of a vaccine for younger kids potentially influence those conversations? Might we potentially see more vaccine requirements in schools?

Jonathan D. Rockoff: Yeah, I think one of the things we have to keep an eye on is how schools process the authorization of a vaccine in five to 11-year-olds. Remember, we’ve already seen the Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine authorized for 12 to 18-year-olds so there’s a lot of kids in school who have already gotten it. I think one of the issues is whether the vaccine is authorized, which is technically one thing, or whether it’s approved, which is another. All these vaccines, because we’re in a pandemic and we want to get them to people as quickly as we can, have been authorized by the FDA. That’s a faster, speedier review than the full approval that vaccines and drugs normally get from the FDA. Now, the FDA says that they’re applying the same high standards that they use to assess drugs and vaccines for an approval to the authorization process, but legally it’s different. It might be that a lot of schools are going to hold off before making a decision on whether they’re going to require a vaccine for kids for an actual approval from the FDA, rather than an authorization.

Annmarie Fertoli: That’s Wall Street Journal health business editor, Jonathan Rockoff. Jonathan, thanks so much for joining me today.

Jonathan D. Rockoff: Thanks, Annmarie.

Annmarie Fertoli: Finally, during the pandemic, outdoor dining went from a warm weather option for restaurants to an all-weather survival strategy. But last year, things were a bit of a mess. Owners threw up improvised tents, installed propane tanks and grabbed whatever patio furniture they could find. Customers showed up, but some felt like it wasn’t worth the money. Wall Street Journal contributor. Alina Dizik says, this year, restaurants are investing in higher quality amenities for the outdoor experience.

Alina Dizik: Owners are really making expensive bets on how to make diners comfortable. That means they’re trying to speed up service, they’re investing in setups that can be moved if needed for snowplows, they’re making sure that the heat is really available for the diners rather than just being in one spot, they’re having drinks that are themed for the winter time, and really trying to get diners in the door with all kinds of creative strategies.

Annmarie Fertoli: That’s What’s News for this Thursday afternoon, we’ll be back tomorrow morning. If you like what you hear, please rate and review us. I’m Annmarie Fertoli for the Wall Street Journal.

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