An advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Thursday in favor of adding the Covid vaccine to the recommended immunization schedule for children and adults.
Children 6 months and older, as well as adults, should get the Covid vaccine, plus boosters, when they are eligible for it, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said in an unanimous vote.
The CDC's advisory committee meets every year to review the vaccination schedule and make updates. The schedule is meant to help guide doctors in determining when to administer a number of important vaccinations, particularly for children, including vaccinations for polio, measles, whooping cough and tetanus.
The decision to officially add Covid vaccination to the schedule now goes to the CDC. The agency is expected to sign off on the recommendation, but it is not required to do so.
The recommended immunization schedule is not a vaccine mandate. States and local jurisdictions make their own rules about which vaccines are required for school attendance.
"Moving Covid-19 to the recommended immunization schedule does not impact what vaccines are required for school entrance, if any," Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during Thursday's ACIP meeting. "Local control matters. And we honor that the decision around school entrance for vaccines rests where it did before, which is with the state level, the county level and at the municipal level, if it exists at all."
"This discussion does not change that," he said.
For example, the CDC added the HPV vaccine to the recommended schedule in 2006. Since then, just a handful of states and territories have mandated the vaccines for public school attendance. Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., require HPV vaccines for boys and girls. Virginia requires the shots for girls only.
The advisory committee regularly makes tweaks to the schedule. Last year, for example, a vaccine for dengue was added for children who live in places such as Puerto Rico and American Samoa where the virus is endemic. The committee may also update which strain-specific vaccine is recommended for certain illnesses, such as pneumonia.
The immunization schedule is the "gold standard" meant to help clinicians determine which vaccines they should recommend and when, said Dr. Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Morita is also a former public health commissioner for Chicago and a former practicing pediatrician.
"I used to look every year, waiting for this vaccine schedule to make sure I was following the best vaccination guidance available," she said.
The CDC's recommended vaccination schedule also provides guidance to insurance providers, which tend to cover vaccines on the list. That will be important next year, when federal funds to cover Covid vaccines are expected to run out, and the burden will shift to the private market.
On Wednesday, the committee voted to add Covid vaccines to the Vaccines for Children program, a federal plan that provides free vaccines to children eligible for or covered by Medicaid.
"By adding it to the VFC program," Morita said, "it now makes these vaccines available to these uninsured and underinsured children."
Vaccination rates among children overall have been dropping dramatically in recent years, particularly throughout the pandemic.
Covid cases in kids have been declining in recent weeks. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 28,000 cases of Covid in children were reported in the U.S. last week. It was the first time since early April that the number of new weekly cases had dropped below 30,000. Kids now represent about 13% of new Covid cases.