CDC signs off on COVID-19 vaccines for children


© Getty Images.

The Hill

Children ages 5 to 11 are now able to start receiving COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible, after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky late Tuesday officially signed off on a recommendation from agency advisors.

Extending vaccine eligibility to children younger than 12 has been a major goal of public health officials and eagerly awaited by many pediatricians and families. The way to end the pandemic is to vaccinate as many people as possible, and an estimated 28 million children are now eligible.

Earlier Tuesday, the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously, 14-0 in favor of the recommendation.

As the advisors began deliberating Tuesday, Walensky said vaccinating younger children is important to protect them against COVID-19, and to help school get back to normal.

The Food and Drug Administration has already authorized the vaccine for children in that age group; now that Walensky has signed off, vaccinations can begin.

“Today, we have reached a turning point in our battle against COVID-19: authorization of a safe, effective vaccine for children age 5 to 11,” President Biden said in a statement following the CDC’s announcement. “It will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others. It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus.”

Some pharmacists and pediatricians will be able to start as soon as Wednesday, but the process for vaccinating children will be different than it was for adults, so shots may not necessarily be available immediately.

The vaccine will be administered in two 10 microgram doses three weeks apart, which is one third the amount given to people over the age of 12. To differentiate, the kid-sized doses will come in different packaging, and be administered using child-specific needles.

So with the smaller dose, a different formulation in different packaging with different needles,  the process of packing and shipping it out to different locations takes time.

While parents should be able to find appointments on the federal website later this week, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said the program will be fully operational by Nov. 8.

Pfizer said its clinical trial showed the vaccine provides nearly 91 percent protection against symptomatic disease among the 5 to 11 age group. The company hopes the smaller dose will reduce any potential side effects.

Data presented to the CDC panel showed the risk of myocarditis, a rare heart inflammation condition that’s been found in some people who’ve received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, is even more rare in children.

The condition is most common among adolescents and young adult men. Pfizer’s clinical trial found no instances of myocarditis among younger children, and according to CDC scientists, the risks of a COVID-19 infection are far worse for a child’s heart than any possible issues that could arise from getting vaccinated.

Still, according to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, only 27 percent of parents with children between the ages of 5 and 11 said they would get their kids vaccinated “right away.”

Recent data show that children are getting infected and transmitting the virus as readily as adults, even though half of them show no symptoms and they are less likely to be severely ill. According to the CDC, vaccinating children is expected to reduce transmission by an estimated 8 percent, or 600,000 cases by next March.