US health officials on Tuesday gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s kid-size COVID-19 shot, 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.”
President Joe Biden called the decision “a turning point.”
“It will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others,” he said in a statement. “It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics welcomed the decision as its members get ready to start the first injections into little arms, which the CDC said could begin “as soon as possible.” The 5- to 11-year-olds will receive two low doses, three weeks apart, of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech – the same schedule as everyone else, but using a smaller needle.