The CDC’s advisory panel voted today to recommend Pfizer’s pediatric COVID vaccine for all children ages 5 to 11. That recommendation comes with the endorsement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, who all read statements at the meeting in support of the vaccine.
The vaccine was FDA-authorized last week, and the federal government has already purchased enough vaccine for free doses for all 28 million children in the U.S. in this age group. The CDC is expected to make the recommendation official very soon, and you should be able to make an appointment with your pediatrician or at a local vaccine clinic within days, if not by the time you read this.
A member of the American Pharmacists’ Association noted at the meeting that you’ll probably have to make an appointment, rather than expecting to walk in to a pharmacy, and that there might be a wait due to high demand from parents and staffing shortages at pharmacies.
How does this vaccine compare to the version for teens and adults?
This vaccine, like the version that’s currently in use for adults and for kids ages 12 and older, was shown in trials to be safe, immunogenic (meaning that children’s immune systems responded by making plenty of neutralizing antibodies), and effective at preventing cases of COVID. The side effects are similar to those for adults.
The vaccine comes in a pediatric formulation, packaged in orange-topped vials instead of purple-topped ones, in a lower dose than the adult version. That means you’ll need to make sure when you make your appointment that you’re going to a clinic that can administer the pediatric version; an adult dose isn’t the same thing. (That said, if a child gets the adult version by accident, no serious consequences are expected—and that dose does count as part of their series.)
Does a COVID vaccine make sense for children?
Children are less likely than adults to get very sick from COVID-19, but they can get sick, and they are definitely able to pass the virus along to adults, including family members. (More than 140,000 U.S. children have lost a parent to COVID.)
COVID has killed at least 94 children in the 5-11 age range in the U.S., making it the eighth leading cause of death in that age group. More than 8,000 have been hospitalized, some with serious and likely lifelong consequences. Yes, children are more likely to be asymptomatic or to have mild infections than they are to become hospitalized or die, but that still means a lot of children are getting seriously ill from this virus.
In the week since the FDA authorized the vaccine for this age range, I’ve been asking pediatricians for their thoughts on who should get the vaccine and who maybe doesn’t need it or should wait. The answers have all been unanimous: The benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks, for pretty much everybody.
“I am recommending it for all my patients in the approved age range,” says pediatrician Daniel Summers. “Even the low risk of serious complications [of COVID-19] for children is higher than I would want to accept when we have a safe and effective means of bringing it even lower.”
“Vaccinating kids is the best way to keep them safe from COVID-19 and is an important step toward ending the pandemic,” says Adam Ratner, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. He pointed out that the vaccine benefits children directly, by protecting them from getting sick, and also indirectly, “including decreasing the overall spread of COVID-19 in the community, which can help protect vulnerable individuals and can help keep schools open and safe.”