Children as young as 6 months eligible for Covid shots in the US, vaccinations start Tuesday

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A child is given a dose of the pediatric vaccine Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Mayela Lopez | Reuters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday supported Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 injections for children as young as 6 months, and the vaccinations are expected to begin in earnest after the holiday weekend.

The CDC’s committee of independent vaccine experts voted unanimously to recommend the injections for infants to preschoolers after two days of public meetings. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky accepted the committee’s recommendation and gave the final green light on Saturday.

The White House has said vaccinations for children under 5 would begin in earnest on Tuesday, after the June 10 federal holiday. The availability of an appointment may be limited at first, but any parent who wants to have their child vaccinated should be able to do so in the coming weeks, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, who oversees the Biden administration’s Covid response.

The federal government has initially made 10 million vaccine doses available to its local partners. There are nearly 20 million children aged 6 months to 5 years in the US

The CDC encourages parents to contact their primary care physician, local pharmacy, health department, or visit vaccins.gov to find out where the injections are available for their children.

Nearly everyone in the US is now eligible for Covid vaccination, less than two years after the first injections for the elderly were approved in December 2020.

“I am fully convinced that vaccines should be recommended,” said Dr. Grace Lee, chair of the CDC’s Vaccine Committee. “Clearly we can prevent hospitalizations and deaths. And I believe we have the potential to prevent long-term complications from infections that we don’t yet understand.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement on Saturday strongly recommending that parents get their children vaccinated and raise any questions or concerns with their primary care physician.

Covid risk for children

While Covid is normally less severe in children than adults, the virus can be life-threatening for some children. Covid is the fifth leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, according to CDC data. Since January 2020, more than 200 children aged 6 months to 4 years have died of Covid.

More than 2 million children in this age group have been infected with Covid during the pandemic, according to CDC data, and more than 20,000 have been hospitalized.

Hospital admissions of children under 5 with Covid peaked during the winter ommicron wave, reaching the highest level of the pandemic for this age group. The vast majority of them, 86%, were hospitalized primarily because of the impact of Covid on their health, according to CDC data. In other words, they were not picked up in the data because they tested positive for the virus after being admitted for a different health reason.

According to CDC data, more than 50% of children under age 5 who were hospitalized had no underlying medical conditions. Nearly a quarter of children admitted to hospital in this age group ended up in intensive care.

Nearly 2,000 children under the age of 5 developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, after a Covid infection. MIS-C is a condition in which multiple organ systems — the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or digestive organs — become inflamed. Nine children under the age of 5 have died of MIS-C.

“These very clear data just decimate the myth that this infection is not life-threatening in this age group,” said Dr. Sarah Long, a committee member and pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

Pfizer, Moderna vaccine differences

Pfizer’s vaccine is given in three doses for children 6 months to 4 years old. The shots are dosed at 3 micrograms, one-tenth the level of what adults get. Three injections were approximately 75% effective in preventing mild omicron disease in 6 to 2 year olds and 82% in 2 to 4 year olds.

However, the vaccine efficacy data is preliminary and inaccurate as it is based on a small population of 10 children, with estimates ranging from 14% to 96% protection against omicron. dr. Bill Gruber, head of Pfizer’s vaccine research, said the antibody response seen in children after dose three, which was higher than in people aged 16 to 25 who received two injections, should provide reassurance that the vaccine is effective.

“In the interest of some sort of full transparency for parents, it’s appropriate to acknowledge the uncertainty about that,” said committee member Dr. Matthew Daley on the estimation of vaccine efficacy.

It is critical that parents who choose Pfizer ensure that their children receive the third shot to have protection against the virus. Two doses were only about 14% effective in preventing infection for children under 2 years of age and 33% effective for children 2 to 4 years of age.

“I don’t want parents to get the impression that two doses are good enough,” said Daley, a pediatrician who studies vaccine safety.

Moderna’s vaccine is given in two doses for children 6 months to 5 years old. The shots are dosed at 25 micrograms, one-fourth the level adults get.

Moderna’s vaccine was about 51% effective in preventing mild omicron disease for children 6 months to 2 years of age, and about 37% for children 2 to 5 years old. However, the company expects the vaccine to provide strong protection against serious illness, as the children had higher antibody levels than adults who received two doses.

Moderna is studying a booster dose targeting omicron for children in this age group, with data expected on the safety of the injection and the immune response expected in the fall, according to Dr. Rituparna Das, who is leading the development of Moderna’s Covid vaccine.

The most common side effects of the vaccines were pain at the injection site, irritability and crying, loss of appetite and drowsiness, the FDA said. Few children who received either injection developed a fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and there were no cases of myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation, in the Pfizer or Moderna studies.

CNBC Health & Science

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