The U.S. opened COVID-19 vaccines for infants, toddlers and preschoolers on Saturday. The shots will be available next week, extending the country’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 6 months.
Advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccines for the youngest children, and the final sign came hours later from dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director.
“We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to have their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision they can do so,” Walensky said in a statement.
While the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines, it is the CDC that decides who should get them.
The shots offer young children protection against hospitalization, death and possible long-term complications that are still not clearly understood, the CDC’s advisory panel said.
The government has already prepared for the vaccine’s expansion, with millions of doses ordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics across the country.
About 18 million children will be eligible, but it remains to be seen how much the vaccines will get. Less than a third of children between the ages of 5-11 have done so since vaccination was opened for them last November.
Here are some things to know:
What types are available?
Two brands – Pfizer and Moderna – received the green light from the FDA on Friday and from the CDC on Saturday. The vaccines use the same technology, but are offered at different dose sizes and number of injections for the youngest children.
Pfizer’s vaccine is for children 6 months to 4 years old. The dose is one tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given three weeks apart, and the last at least two months later.
Moderna is two shots, each a quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart for children from 6 months to 5 years old. The FDA also approved a third dose, at least one month after the second shot, for children with immune conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious diseases.
How well do they work?
In studies, vaccinated adolescents have developed levels of virus-fighting antibodies that are as strong as young adults, suggesting that the doses of pups protect against coronavirus infections.
However, it is difficult to determine exactly how well they work, especially when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine.
Two doses of Moderna were apparently only about 40% effective in preventing milder infections at a time when the omicron variant caused most COVID-19 diseases. Pfizer provided study information indicating that the company saw 80% with its three shots. But the Pfizer data was so limited – and based on such a small number of cases – experts and federal officials say they do not feel there is another reliable estimate.
Should my baby be vaccinated?
Yes, according to the CDC. While COVID-19 was the most dangerous for older adults, younger people, including children, can also become very ill.
Hospitalizations increased during the omicron wave. Since the onset of the pandemic, about 480 children under the age of 5 have been counted among the country’s more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths, according to federal data.
“It is worth vaccinating even though the number of deaths is relatively rare, because these deaths can be prevented by vaccination,” says Dr. Matthew Daley, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado researcher who sits on the CDC’s advisory committee.
In a statement Saturday, President Joe Biden urged parents to get it for their young children as soon as possible.
What vaccine should my child get?
One of the two, says Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s vaccine chief.
“What vaccine does your healthcare provider, pediatrician, have? That’s what I’ll give my child,” Marks said Friday.
The doses have not been tested against each other, so experts say there is no way to say if one is better.
One consideration: It takes about three months to complete the Pfizer three-shot series, but only one month for Moderna’s two shots. So, families eager to protect children quickly may want Moderna.
Who gives the chances?
Pediatricians, other primary care physicians and pediatric hospitals plan to provide the vaccines. Limited drugstores will offer this to at least some of the under-5 group.
U.S. officials expect most shots to be fired at pediatricians’ offices. Many parents may be more comfortable getting the vaccine for their children from their regular doctor, Dr. Ashish Jha, Covid-19 coordinator of the White House, said. He predicted that the rate of vaccination would be much slower than it was for older populations.
“We are going to see vaccinations increase over weeks and even possibly over a few months,” Jha said.
Can children get other vaccines at the same time?
It is common for young children to receive more than one vaccine during a doctor’s visit.
In studies of the Moderna and Pfizer injections in infants and toddlers, other vaccinations were not given at the same time, so there are no data on possible side effects when they occur.
But problems were not identified in older children or adults when COVID-19 shots and other vaccinations were given together, and the CDC recommends that it be safe for younger children as well.
What if my child recently had COVID-19?
About three-quarters of children of all ages are estimated to be infected at some point. For older ages, the CDC in any case recommended vaccination to lower the chances of re-infection.
Experts have noted re-infections among previously infected people and say the highest levels of protection occur in those who have been both vaccinated and previously infected.
The CDC said people might consider waiting about three months for an infection to be vaccinated.