A child is given a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
Mayela Lopez | Reuters
The independent vaccine experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines for children 6 months and older on Saturday.
The CDC committee, after two days of meetings open to the public, voted unanimously to recommend the injections for use in infants through preschool children. It is expected that CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will sign the committee’s recommendation this weekend, which would allow pharmacies and doctor’s offices to start administering the shots.
The White House expects immunizations for children under the age of 5 to begin Tuesday after the June 16 federal holiday. Appointment availability might be limited initially, but any parent wishing to have their child vaccinated should be able to do so in the next few weeks, Dr. Ashish Jha, who is overseeing the Biden administration’s Covid response.
Almost everyone in the US is now eligible for a Covid vaccination less than two years after the first vaccinations for the elderly were approved in December 2020.
Covid risk for children
Although Covid is usually less severe in children than adults, the virus can be life-threatening for some children. According to CDC data, Covid is the fifth leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 4. More than 200 children aged 6 months to 4 years have died from Covid since January 2020.
More than 2 million children in this age group have been infected with Covid during the pandemic, and more than 20,000 have been hospitalized, according to CDC data.
Hospital admissions of children under 5 with Covid increased during the winter Omicron wave, reaching the highest level of the pandemic for this age group. The overwhelming majority of them, 86%, were admitted primarily because of the impact of Covid on their health, according to CDC data. That is, they were not included in the data because they tested positive for the virus after admission for another health reason.
According to CDC data, more than 50% of children under the age of 5 who were hospitalized had no underlying medical conditions. Almost a quarter of the children hospitalized 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 Covid infection. MIS-C is a disease in which multiple organ systems – the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or digestive tract – become inflamed. Nine children under the age of 5 have died from MIS-C.
“These very clear data only debunk the myth that this infection is not life-threatening in this age group,” said Dr. Sarah Long, 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 to children aged 6 months to 4 years. The shots are dosed at 3 micrograms, a tenth of what adults receive. Three injections were about 75% effective in preventing mild illness from Omicron in children 6 months to 2 years old and 82% effective in children 2 to 4 years old.
However, data on vaccine effectiveness is preliminary and inaccurate, based on a small population of 10 children, with estimates ranging from 14% to 96% protection against Omicron. dr Bill Gruber, Pfizer’s head of vaccine research, said the antibody response seen in children after the third dose, which was higher than in people aged 16 to 25 who received two shots, should provide reassurance that the vaccine is effective .
“In the interests of some sort of full transparency for parents, I think it’s appropriate to acknowledge the uncertainty involved,” said committee member Dr. Matthew Daley on estimating vaccine efficacy.
It is crucial that parents who choose Pfizer ensure their children receive the third shot to protect themselves from the virus. Two doses were only about 14% effective in preventing infections in children under 2 years of age and 33% in children 2 to 4 years of age.
“I don’t want parents to feel like two doses is good enough,” said Daley, a pediatrician who studies vaccine safety.
Moderna’s vaccine is given in two doses to children aged 6 months to 5 years. The shots are dosed at 25 micrograms, a quarter of the amount adults receive.
Moderna’s vaccine was about 51% effective in preventing mild illness caused by Omicron in children aged 6 months to 2 years and about 37% in children aged 2 to 5 years. However, the company expects the vaccine to offer strong protection against serious diseases, as the children had higher levels of antibodies than adults who received two doses.
according to dr Rituparna Das, who is leading Moderna’s Covid vaccine development, is investigating a booster dose of Moderna targeting Omicron for children in this age group, with data on the vaccine’s safety and immune response expected in the fall.
According to the FDA, the most common side effects of the vaccines were pain at the injection site, irritability and crying, loss of appetite and drowsiness. Few children who received either shot developed fevers over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, and there were no cases of myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation, in the Pfizer or Moderna studies.