US health officials on Tuesday gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s kid-size Covid-19 shots a milestone that opens a major expansion of the nation’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 5.
The Food and Drug Administration already authorized the shots for children ages 5 to 11 — doses just a third of the amount given to teens and adults. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally recommends who should receive FDA-cleared vaccines.
The announcement by CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky came only hours after an advisory panel unanimously decided Pfizer’s shots should be opened to the 28 million youngsters in that age group.
The decision marks the first opportunity for Americans under 12 to get the powerful protection of any COVID-19 vaccine.
“As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” Walensky said Tuesday night, in a statement.
In remarks earlier in the day, she said while the risk of severe disease and death is lower in young children than adults, it is real — and that COVID-19 has had a profound social, mental health and educational impact on youngsters, including widening disparities in learning.
“There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year,” Walensky said. “Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that.”
In the U.S., there have been more than 8,300 coronavirus-related hospitalizations of kids ages 5 to 11, about a third requiring intensive care, according to government data. The CDC has recorded at least 94 deaths in that age group, with additional reports under investigation.
A few countries have begun using other COVID-19 vaccines in children under 12, including China, which just began vaccinations for 3-year-olds. But many that use the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are watching the U.S. decision, and European regulators just began considering the companies’ kid-size doses.