Health Care

CDC panel endorses COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel on Tuesday recommended the agency move forward with giving Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11.

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

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 Food and Drug Administration had already authorized the vaccine for children in that age group, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is expected to sign off on the recommendation later Tuesday, allowing vaccinations to begin as soon as possible. 

A few million doses have been arriving at doctors’ offices and pharmacies, but the full vaccination effort will need the rest of this week to ramp up. 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. 

The Biden administration said it has purchased enough vaccines to give shots to all of the country’s 28 million children ages 5 to 11 years old and has been working with state and local leaders to be ready to distribute the vaccines once they are authorized.

States, territories and other jurisdictions began placing initial orders about two weeks ago, and workers at Pfizer and at distribution centers have begun the process of preparing and packing 15 million doses, Zients said.

The vaccine will be administered in two doses of 10 micrograms, 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. 

If an 11-year-old turns 12 in the three weeks between the first and second doses, the CDC said that child can still receive the smaller-sized dose as their second shot. 

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. 

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.”

The condition is most common among adolescents and young adult men. Pfizer’s clinical trial found no instances of myocarditis among younger children, and CDC staff told the panel that 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. 

“The chances a child will have severe COVID, require hospitalization or develop a long-term complication like MIS-C [multisystem inflammatory syndrome] remains low, but still the risk remains too high and too devastating to our children and far higher for many other diseases for which we vaccinate our children,” Walensky said at the start of the meeting.

While children are less at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the CDC said hospitalizations for kids ages 5 to 11 are similar to hospitalizations in that age group for other diseases that children are now routinely vaccinated against such as influenza and chickenpox. 

COVID-19 also has the highest annual death rate among current vaccine-preventable diseases for children ages 5 to 11, compared with hepatitis A, rubella, chickenpox, meningitis and rotavirus.

Infections in kids are also less likely to be reported, suggesting the true number of pediatric cases in the U.S. could be much higher.

According to the CDC, vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 could accelerate the decline in overall COVID-19 cases, reducing cumulative infections nationally by an expected 600,000 cases from November 2021 to March 2022.

A CDC presentation showed that for every 1 million children vaccinated, hundreds of hospitalizations will be averted, based on data from peak delta variant transmission. Still, even when community transmission is lower, there will be benefits.

Tags CDC children coronavirus vaccines Jeff Zients Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Rochelle Walensky

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