- CDC recommended the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to all children aged 5 to 11, following an authorization by the FDA last week.
- Experts determined the benefits of vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 to outweigh the risk of severe adverse outcomes like myocarditis.
- Pediatric shots could be distributed as soon as Wednesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday issued an official recommendation for vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 against COVID-19. The move represents a landmark moment in the pandemic, allowing families to seek out vaccine protection for their children as they return to in-person schooling and activities.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an advisory panel to the CDC, voted 14-to-0 to recommend Pfizer’s vaccine for children after a day of data review and deliberation. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed off on the recommendation hours later.
“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,” President Biden wrote in a statement following the CDC’s decision.
Health providers may begin giving shots as soon as Wednesday and the vaccination effort will be in full swing by November 8, said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, at a press conference this week.
The Biden administration has already purchased enough doses for all children in this age group, and Pfizer has already begun packing and shipping 15 million doses, Zients said.
In a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel last week prior to the authorization of the shot, some panelists suggested limiting the eligibility requirements to only the most at-risk children. The CDC advisory panel decided to recommend the shots for all children.
The Vaccine Is Safe and Effective, CDC Says
While COVID-19 cases tend to be less severe for children compared with adults, a recent surge in pediatric cases now makes the disease a top 10 cause of death for children aged 5 to 11. More than 1.9 million kids have been infected and nearly 100 have died.
The Pfizer vaccine is 90.7% effective at preventing severe illness and death in children, according to data from both FDA and Pfizer’s clinical trials.
“Today is a monumental day in the course of this pandemic and one that many of us have been very eager to see,” Walensky told the committee at the panel on Tuesday.
Cases among kids are likely undercounted. Nearly 40% of children aged 5 to 11 have some immunity to COVID-19, according to antibody tests from September.
Even if a child has been naturally infected, they should receive the vaccine to be adequately protected against COVID-19, Jefferson Jones, MD, MPH, medical officer for the CDC COVID-19 Epidemiology Task Force, said in a presentation to the panel.
Vaccination for kids aged 5 to 11 could bring down COVID-19 cases nationwide by about 8% in the next five months, Sara Oliver, MD, MSPH, a presenter from the CDC said.
Much of the panel’s discussion focused on the risk of vaccine-related myocarditis—a rare inflammatory heart disease that has been linked to both COVID-19 and the vaccines.
Researchers are uncertain about the precise rate of vaccine-related myocarditis in children aged 5 to 11, though the risk is “likely lower” than that for adolescents, Matthew Oster, MD, MPH, pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, told panelists.
The clinical trial conducted by Pfizer involved more than 4,600 children. But this sample was not large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as myocarditis. The participants experienced side effects similar to those seen in teens and adults.
“We’re talking about one risk that people are focusing on with the vaccine. I would keep in mind there are a lot of different risks for having COVID,” Oster said.
Parents and guardians could enroll their child in V-SAFE, a federal vaccine surveillance system, in case of any adverse effects after being vaccinated. Even if parents are unsure whether the symptoms are directly related to the vaccine, reporting the events allows monitoring teams to assess the vaccine safety.
What This Means For You
There will be no mass vaccination sites for children. Instead, kids can visit their doctor, a school- or community-based health clinic, pharmacy, or children’s hospital. By the end of the week, families will be able to find vaccine locations for children aged 5 to 11 at vaccines.gov.
Getting Ready for Vaccine Rollout
Vaccines will be available to kids 5–11 years old as soon as Wednesday.
“If we wait, we miss the chance to prevent many cases of COVID-19 in this age group, and that includes some very severe cases,” said Matthew Daley, MD, a panelist and senior investigator at the Institute for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Colorado.
The pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine contains a third of the dose that’s authorized for people 12 years and older. The two shots will be given three weeks apart and administered with a smaller needle. To avoid confusion, the vaccine for this age group comes in an orange capped vial, while the dose for teens 12 years and older is packaged with a purple cap.
Health clinics and doctors’ offices across the country have already started preparing for the rollout. Families can visit their primary and pediatric care teams to ask questions about and receive the shot. Pharmacies, school clinics, and other community-based sites around the country will offer vaccines, especially for kids without regular access to a pediatrician or general practitioner.
More than 100 children’s hospitals will administer shots. These sites will help reach children with underlying medical conditions, according to the White House.
In a CDC survey from early October, nearly 63% of parents said they would prefer to vaccinate their child at their regular doctor’s office or clinic.
Panelists also emphasized the need for broad outreach to minimize the stark racial and socioeconomic disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates, cases, and severe outcomes. Black, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaska Native children in this age group are three times as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than White children, according to CDC’s surveillance data.
Why Is Vaccination Important for Kids 5–11?
The vaccines do more than preventing death from COVID-19. They can also protect against adverse effects like the development of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a condition that can arise from COVID-19 infection and cause multiple complications. Nearly half of the COVID-19-related MIS-C cases have occurred in children between 5 to 11 years old, according to CDC data.
Milder post-COVID-19 conditions include fatigue, headache, insomnia, and muscle and joint pain. These can affect children’s ability to participate in physical activities, perform in school, and socialize with others.
Vaccination may also decrease transmission within households and communities. Between August and October, more than 2,000 schools closed due to COVID-19, affecting more than 1.2 million students.
“Based on our expertise and the information that we have, we’re all very enthusiastic. We were all talking about how we’re getting our kids and our grandkids vaccinated,” said Beth Bell, MD, MPH, a panelist and global health professor at the University of Washington.
“We do understand that people have legitimate concerns and that they have lots of questions,” she added. “We really encourage people to ask their providers, to visit the CDC website, to talk to their friends, their parents, and do what they need to do to feel comfortable with their decision.”
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