US to roll out COVID vaccines for youngest children next week

US to begin vaccinating children as young as six months after CDC clears Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s shots for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

Dr. Mayank Amin administers a Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) booster vaccine to 10-year-old Ernest "EJ" Jones at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania,
Pfizer-BioNtech's vaccine is already authorised for children over the age of five [File: Hannah Beier/ Reuters]

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as six months, allowing a nationwide rollout to start next week.

The CDC’s decision on Saturday came after a panel of advisers to the institution voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccines for those children.

“We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement.

The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized Moderna Inc’s shot for children aged six months to five years, and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children aged six months to four years. Pfizer’s vaccine is already authorised for children over the age of five.

“This infection kills children and we have an opportunity to prevent that,” Beth Bell, one of the doctors on the advisory panel, said following the vote. “Here is an opportunity to prevent a known risk.”

US President Joe Biden hailed the decision as a “monumental step” and said his administration plans to roll out the vaccines to the under-five age groups as early as next week.

“This coming week, parents will be able to start scheduling appointments at places like pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals, and pharmacies,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday.

“Appointments will ramp up as more doses are shipped out, and in the coming weeks, every parent who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.”

Roughly 18 million children will be eligible, but it remains to be seen how many will ultimately get the vaccines. Less than a third of children ages 5 to 11 have done so since vaccination opened up to them last November.

Pfizer-BioNtech’s vaccine is for children 6 months to 4 years old. The dose is one-tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given three weeks apart, and the last at least two months later.

Moderna’s is two shots, each a quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart for kids 6 months through 5 years old. The FDA also approved a third dose, at least a month after the second shot, for children with immune conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness.

CVS Health Corp says it plans to provide vaccines to children aged 18 months and older while Rite Aid Corp and Walmart Inc plan to offer these shots for kids who are at least three years old. Infants are traditionally vaccinated at a doctor’s office.

Public health officials have been pushing for childhood vaccinations ahead of the new school year as they hope shots for the age group will help prevent hospitalizations and deaths if COVID-19 cases rise again.

COVID-19 is generally milder in children.

Still, since the start of the pandemic, some 480 children under age five are counted among the nation’s more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths, according to federal data.

So-called long COVID is also a concern, as is multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but serious post-viral condition.

“It is worth vaccinating even though the number of deaths is relatively rare, because these deaths are preventable through vaccination,” said Dr Matthew Daley, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado researcher who sits on the CDC’s advisory committee.

The CDC advisers will meet again next week to consider whether to back the use of the Moderna vaccine for children and adolescents aged 6-17.

There has been some concern about the rate of rare cases of heart inflammation in teenage boys and young men from the Moderna vaccine, and the advisers are expected to consider that data.

Source: News Agencies