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CDC approves Covid vaccines for youngest kids

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s final approval means shots can begin immediately, finally ending the two-and-a-half year wait on the part of parents of children under 5.
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The wait is finally over.

On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on Covid vaccines for the youngest Americans. Her endorsement means shots can begin immediately, finally ending the two-and-a-half year wait on the part of parents of children under 5.

Walenksy accepted the recommendation within hours after the CDC advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for children as young as 6 months. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee on Saturday endorsed Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines for the youngest children, the last step before CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky could issue her final sign-off.

The unanimous recommendations from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices followed the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the shots on Friday.

President Biden responded to the announcement Saturday hailing it as a "monumental step forward."

" For parents all over the country, this is a day of relief and celebration," Biden said. "As the first country to protect our youngest children with COVID-19 vaccines, my Administration has been planning and preparing for this moment for months, effectively securing doses and offering safe and highly effective mRNA vaccines for all children as young as six months old."

Full coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic

Shortly before Saturday's votes — one for Moderna and a separate one for Pfizer — many panel members celebrated the milestone, noting that parents will soon have two effective tools to protect their youngest children from Covid after more than two years of living with the virus.

“We want to say today that if you’re not going to immunize your children, we think that’s a misplaced concern and that you should immunize your children to save their lives," said committee member Dr. Sarah Long, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

While young children are generally less likely than adults to experience the most serious outcomes of the virus, some do. Among children 6 months old through age 4, there have been more than 2 million confirmed cases of Covid, more than 20,000 hospitalizations and more than 200 deaths, according to CDC data. Covid is the fifth most common cause of death in children younger than 5.

"This is an opportunity, which one doesn't get very often, to participate in preventing the death of young children," said committee member Dr. Beth Bell, a clinical professor in the department of global health at the University of Washington. "A death of a young child is an incredible tragedy, and we know that this disease is killing children."

The vaccination campaign may not get underway in earnest until Tuesday, as pediatricians’ offices are likely closed on Sunday, and may also be closed on Monday in observance of the Juneteenth federal holiday. Shots will also be available at some pharmacies and mass vaccination sites.

Every state except Florida has placed preorders for the kid-size shots, which began shipping to distribution centers on Friday, following the FDA’s authorization.

Both Pfizer's and Moderna’s vaccines consist of different doses and dosing schedules.

Pfizer’s is administered as a three-shot regimen, with the first two doses given three weeks apart, followed by the third shot given at least eight weeks after the second. Moderna’s shot is two doses, given four weeks apart.

The Pfizer vaccine was authorized by the FDA for children age 6 months to 4 years, while the Moderna vaccine was authorized for children age 6 months to 5 years. 

A vial of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.Pfizer

Shipments of the vaccines will come with all of the supplies that health care providers need to administer the shots to young children, the White House said this month, including smaller needles.

In order to differentiate between the doses intended for young children and older age groups, the vials will have different colored caps and labels: a dark blue cap with a magenta label for Moderna’s and a maroon cap and label for Pfizer’s.

There are roughly 18 million children under age 5 in the U.S. The federal government has made 10 million vaccine doses available to states, tribes and territories, though millions more doses are expected to be shipped in the coming weeks, according to the White House. 

Because a large number of young children have had Covid infections, some parents may not see the need for vaccination. The CDC scientists noted that vaccination provides more protection against reinfection than does previous infection, particularly as more variants emerge. Even for children who had Covid during the omicron wave, there is a greater risk of reinfection from the newer strains, BA.4 and BA. 5.

"Prior infection does not confer immunity that would make one comfortable enough not to get vaccinated," said committee member Dr. Oliver Brooks, chief medical officer at Watts HealthCare Corporation.

Children under 5 can get vaccinated at pediatricians' offices, more than 100 children’s hospitals and select pharmacies and public health clinics across the U.S., according to the White House. The Biden administration has said 85% of children younger than 5 live within 5 miles of a vaccination site. 

During Saturday's meeting, federal health officials said they were expecting more vaccine waste from the pediatric vaccine campaign. That's because the vaccine comes in 10 dose vials that must be used within 12 hours, they said.

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