By Peter Sullivan
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky backed an advisory committee’s recommendation on Saturday that will allow children under the age of 5 years old to receive the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, capping off the last step needed before children can start getting inoculated.
Vaccinations for children aged six months and older can begin this coming week.
“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against COVID-19,” Walensky said in a statement.
“We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can. I encourage parents and caregivers with questions to talk to their doctor, nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about the benefits of vaccinations and the importance of protecting their children by getting them vaccinated,” she added.
President Biden celebrated the news in a statement shortly after Walensky’s signoff.
“Today is a monumental step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus, with virtually every American now eligible for the protections that COVID-19 vaccines provide,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday a CDC advisory committee unanimously voted to recommend Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5, a major milestone for parents waiting to get shots for their young children.
The rollout of vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna for children under 5 comes months after some parents were eagerly awaiting the shots — and frustrated by delays.
“This infection kills children, and we have an opportunity to prevent that,” Beth Bell, a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health and a member of the panel, said of recommending the vaccines.
Pfizer’s vaccine had at one point appeared to be moving forward for young children earlier this year but was delayed to gather more data regarding a third dose.
Pfizer’s vaccine is rolling out with a three-dose schedule, while Moderna’s is two doses.
Two doses of Moderna were 51 percent effective in children 6 months to 2 years old, and 37 percent in children ages 2 through 5.
However, those numbers are for preventing any infection at all; the numbers for preventing severe disease, seen as the key goal, are expected to be higher.
The Pfizer vaccine was 80 percent effective after three doses, but that finding was from a small number of cases, so the result could change.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which cleared the vaccines earlier this week, offered assurances that its review found them to be safe.
“Those trusted with the care of children can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of these COVID-19 vaccines and can be assured that the agency was thorough in its evaluation of the data,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf.
While some eager parents can get their children vaccinated this coming week, the uptake for older children suggests that many parents will hesitate.
Only about 30 percent of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, according to CDC figures.
The Biden administration said earlier this month in planning its rollout that it would work through pediatricians and other experts to answer parents’ questions.
“We are going to meet people where they are and answer their questions,” a senior administration official said. “And so, what we are trying to do is we are trying to ensure that those people in communities, including pediatricians, have the information that they need to answer parents’ questions.”
Additional reporting by Caroline Vakil