WASHINGTON – The United States can now start administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children age five to 11, U.S. health authorities said Tuesday, in a move hailed by President Joe Biden as a “turning point” in the fight against the pandemic.
Days after gaining authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, the vaccine was endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, clearing the way for the vaccination of up to 28 million children.
The government was well ahead of the decision, procuring enough doses for the age group and beginning to ship them across the country.
“Today, we have reached a turning point in our battle against COVID-19,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
Vaccinating younger children will “allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others. It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus,” the president continued.
The government has already secured enough vaccines for every child in America, he said, adding that over the weekend officials began the process of packing and shipping millions of doses.
“The program will ramp up over the coming days, and (be) fully up and running during the week of Nov. 8,” he said.
Pfizer has been in talks with regulatory authorities in Japan and is expected to file an application soon. Japan’s health ministry authorized lowering the vaccine age limit to 12 from 16 on June 1 — less than a month after the U.S. endorsed the change — without conducting additional clinical trials in Japan.
The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is hinting that it will again act swiftly to make the vaccine available to the younger demographic, which accounts for around 7.4 million children and about 6% of Japan’s population.
The vaccine will still be given in two injections, three weeks apart. The dosage has been adjusted to 10 micrograms per injection, compared to 30 micrograms for older age groups.
Caps on children’s vials will be orange, making them easily recognizable compared to the purple caps on the vials for older groups.
The CDC had convened a panel of independent scientists on Tuesday to review the available data on the status of the outbreak in children, the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine and its possible side effects during a day of live-streamed discussions.
The panel unanimously recommended the vaccine, and the CDC then endorsed that recommendation.
The main concern was the risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, which has been detected in adolescents and young adults — mostly males — after vaccination with the Pfizer or Moderna shots.
Health authorities have confirmed nearly 880 cases in people under 30 years of age, of which approximately 830 required hospitalization.
Nine deaths are suspected to have been related to myocarditis after the vaccine.
But of six cases so far reviewed, vaccine-related myocarditis was ultimately not identified as the cause of death, pediatric cardiologist Dr. Matthew Oster said in a presentation.
“I’m much more worried about what would happen to their child if they get COVID, for patients who don’t have heart disease, than I am if they were to get this vaccine,” he added.
There have been more than 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 among those age 5 to 11 in the United States and more than 8,300 hospitalizations, more than 2,300 cases of MIS-C (pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome) and about 100 deaths.
The expected benefits of vaccinating children also include fewer school closures and a possible reduction in transmission of the virus in the general population.
According to a survey of 1,000 parents presented Tuesday by the CDC, 57% said they would “definitely” or “probably” get their child vaccinated.
“If I had a grandchild, I would certainly get that grandchild vaccinated as soon as possible,” said Beth Bell, an infectious disease specialist and committee member.
“We have excellent evidence of efficacy and safety. We have a favorable risk benefit analysis.”
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