June 18, 2022
A federal advisory panel Saturday strongly recommended that young children receive COVID-19 vaccines, and the director of the CDC signed off on the shots – paving the way for them to become available as soon as Tuesday for children as young as 6 months old.
“We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Walensky gave her thumbs-up just hours after the 12-member committee's unanimous recommendation.
The American Medical Association, the American Association of Pediatrics and the National Association of Nurse Practitioners also expressed their support Saturday for the vaccines.
The actions clear the way for 10 million vaccine doses, which have already been pre-ordered from the federal government, to begin delivery and distribution as soon as Tuesday (after the Monday Juneteenth federal holiday).
The vaccines are safe and trigger the same immune response that has protected older children and adults, the advisory panel decided Saturday.
"All children six months and older should be immunized against COVID," said committee member Dr. Sarah Long, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Drexel University College of Medicine and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, both in Philadelphia. "If you're not going to to immunize your children, we think that's misplaced concern and that you should immunize your child to save their lives."
An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration came to the same conclusion earlier in the week and the FDA commissioner formally authorized the vaccines on Friday morning.
The shots will be available at no cost to parents in local pharmacies, pediatricians' offices, clinics and other locations.
Vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are delivered differently, though based on the same mRNA technology. The vaccines for small children are identical to those given to older children and adults, just at a lower dose.
Vaccines will not be available to babies younger than 6 months because they are believed to get protection from vaccination during pregnancy.
The Moderna vaccine was authorized for children ages 6 months up to 6 years, at a dose of 25-micrograms, one-quarter of the dose given to adolescents and adults. It was approved as a two-dose vaccine, given 4- to 8-weeks apart, though the company and officials believe a third dose will be necessary to provide full protection, probably about 12 weeks after the second dose.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be used in children ages 6 months up to 5 years old, at a 3-microgram dose, one-tenth the size of the adult and adolescent dose. Three doses were needed to provide the same level of immune response as seen in young adults after two doses, so it is considered a three-dose vaccine.
The second dose is to be given 3 to 8 weeks after the first, and a third will be given at least eight weeks later.
It's unclear whether further booster shots will be needed as the pandemic continues and the virus evolves. Moderna plans to start testing a third dose of its vaccine in the youngest children next week.
Although children are less likely to be severely affected by COVID-19, they can get sick enough to miss school, or even require hospitalization.
During the pandemic, 2 million children under 5 have been infected with COVID-19, 20,000 have been hospitalized and 200 have died, about half of whom did not have any underlying medical conditions.
There are about 19 million American children in this age group.