Advisors from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unanimously supported widespread use of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday in children aged 5 to 11, with injections ranging from in young arms from Wednesday.
They said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. Much of their discussion stemmed from rare cases of heart inflammation that have been linked to the vaccine, especially in young men.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky must approve the recommendations before the United States can begin administering the vaccine to children in the age group. The United States Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted emergency use authorization for the vaccine to children aged 5 to 11.
The FDA has cleared a 10 microgram dose of Pfizer vaccine for young children. The original shot given to people 12 years of age and older is 30 micrograms.
At the start of the meeting, Walensky said pediatric hospitalizations had increased during the recent surge caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The risk of COVID-19 “is too high and too devastating for our children and much higher than many other diseases for which we vaccinate children,” she said.
Walensky said school closures have taken a toll on children’s social and mental health.
“Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that,” she said.
“We all have a responsibility”
The CDC presented data suggesting that each million vaccines administered could prevent between 80 and 226 hospitalizations in children aged 5 to 11. Once cleared, some 28 million children will be eligible for the vaccine.
Panel members spoke enthusiastically in favor of vaccinating the age group ahead of the vote. Many said they were anxious for their children or grandchildren in the age range to be vaccinated.
“I think I have a responsibility – we all have a responsibility – to make this vaccine available to children and their parents,” said Dr Beth Bell, panel member, School of Public Health. University of Washington. “We have excellent evidence of efficacy and safety. We have a favorable risk / benefit analysis. And we have many parents who are really asking for and wanting to have their children vaccinated.”
Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine showed 90.7% efficacy against the coronavirus in a clinical trial in children aged 5 to 11.
“The vote was unanimous because the evidence is so clear. Children aged 5 to 11 are better immunized,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health who was not a member of the panel, said in a Twitter post after the vote.
The US government and Pfizer have already started distributing the vaccine for widespread deployment to children, many of whom are returning to school for in-person learning.
“We have already shipped to dozens of states this weekend and Monday,” Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said in an interview. “There is a Herculean effort so there will be doses available everywhere.”
Earlier this week, the White House said the United States has an adequate supply of Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine for the 28 million children aged 5 to 11. While some children may be able to receive their first injections as early as Wednesday, the plans are for the United States. The pediatric vaccine program will be in full swing by next week, a Biden administration official said.
Only a few other countries, including China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, have so far authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children in this age group and younger.
In the United States, around 58% of the population is fully vaccinated, lagging behind other countries like the United Kingdom and France.
The proportion of young children who receive the injections may be even lower. Only about 47% of young Americans between the ages of 12 and 15 are vaccinated.
U.S. states with the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in adults are forecasting a large vaccine surge compared to states where reluctance remains high, which could widen protection gaps nationwide, said public health officials and experts.