The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on October 29 paved the way for children ages 5 to 11 to get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.
The FDA cleared kid-size doses — just a third of the amount given to teens and adults — for emergency use, and up to 28 million more American children could be eligible for vaccinations as early as next week.
One more regulatory hurdle remains: On November 2, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make more detailed recommendations on which youngsters should get vaccinated, with a final decision by the agency’s director expected shortly afterwards.
“The rationale here is protect your children so that they can get back towards normal life,” said FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks. “The tremendous cost of this pandemic has not just been in physical illness, it’s been in the psychological, the social development of children” too.
A few countries have begun using other COVID-19 vaccines in children under 12, including China, which just began vaccinations for 3-year-olds. But many that use the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are watching the U.S. decision, and European regulators just began considering the companies’ kid-size doses.
With FDA’s action, Pfizer plans to begin shipping millions of vials of the pediatric vaccine — in orange caps to avoid mix-ups with the purple-capped doses for everyone else — to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other vaccination sites. Once the CDC issues its ruling, eligible kids will get two shots, three weeks apart.
While children are at lower risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 than older people, 5- to 11-year-olds still have been seriously affected — including over 8,300 hospitalizations, about a third requiring intensive care. The FDA said 146 deaths have been reported in that age group.
Nearly 70% of 5- to 11-year-olds hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. have other serious medical conditions, including asthma and obesity, according to federal tracking. Additionally, more than two-thirds of youngsters hospitalized are Black or Hispanic, mirroring long-standing disparities in the disease’s impact.
The similarly made Moderna vaccine also is being studied in young children, and both Pfizer and Moderna also are testing shots for babies and preschoolers.