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Suppliers across the country could begin vaccinating children aged 6 months to 5 years early this week after regulators cleared final approval measures on Saturday.
An independent panel of advisers to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention voted Saturday to recommend that all children of all ages be vaccinated with one of two separate COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
“I am absolutely confident that vaccines should be recommended,” said Dr. Grace Lee, chair of the panel and a pediatrician at Stanford University. “We can definitely prevent hospitalization and death, and we have the potential to prevent long-term complications from the infection that we don’t yet fully understand.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky quickly endorsed the recommendation, taking the final step before launching vaccines.
“We know that millions of parents and caregivers are interested in vaccinating their young children, and with today’s decision they can do so,” Walensky said in a statement. “I encourage parents and caregivers to learn more about the benefits of vaccinating their doctor, nurse, or local pharmacist, and the importance of protecting their children through vaccination.”
During the two-day meeting, which began on Friday, the panelists reviewed data from both pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials, as well as data on vaccine requirements for this age group.
As of May 28, more than 400 children aged 0-4 had died of covidosis, according to the CDC.
“Covid is the fifth most common cause of death among people aged 1-4 years,” Dr. Matthew Daly told the meeting on Friday.
And data from older children and adults show that the vaccine prevents death, says Daly, a senior clinical investigator at the Kaiser Permanent Institute of Health Research. In fact, he added, among people 5 years of age or older, those who have not been vaccinated are 10 times more likely to die from covid than those who have not been vaccinated.
“In other words, vaccination can prevent death from COVID-19,” he said.
The vaccine, developed by Moderna for children from 6 months to 5 years, is given in a two-dose series, four weeks apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a three-dose series for children aged 6 months to 4 years. The first two shots were given three weeks apart, and the third eight weeks after the second shot.
The CDC advisory panel voted 12-0 to recommend both vaccines for this group of children, concluding that both vaccines protect children of this age from the notable COVID-19 and that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
“I’m very excited,” said Dr. Adam Ratner, Head of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at NYU Langone Medical Center and spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“This is a day that many of us have been waiting for since the beginning of the epidemic,” he told NPR.
Many providers across the country have already pre-ordered the vaccine and may begin handling it early this coming week.
“In early June, our state Department of Health issued a call for pre-orders,” said Dr. Jennifer Shoe, a pediatrician based in Atlanta.
He has pre-ordered both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and expects to start making appointments and giving shots on Tuesday.
“We had a lot of interest in vaccines,” he told NPR. “Our phone hooks off.”
A survey conducted in February showed that nearly half of parents at this age “said they would definitely or probably vaccinate their child once they became eligible,” CDC’s Dr. Sarah Oliver said in a speech at Saturday’s meeting.
One-third of parents say they “must or probably won’t vaccinate their child,” he added. And one-fifth of respondents said they would have the vaccine available within three months.
“This infection kills children,” said Dr. Beth Bell, a panel member and public health expert at the University of Washington. “We have a chance to prevent it and every parent would like to consider that calculation as well.”