By Bridie Golding
On November 2nd, The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 5-11 year olds, allowing elementary school children to receive their first dose.
This move allowed for the distribution of vaccines to around 28 million children in the U.S., set to begin almost immediately. The CDC has said that supply should not pose a problem, meaning that even though Moderna has delayed seeking approval for its pediatric vaccine, there will be enough of the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate the entire age group.
In a statement, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said: “We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision. We now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
“As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” she added.
Walensky also noted that at least 94 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have died from COVID-19. CDC committee member and CEO of the Fanny Strong Foundation Veronica McNally said her vote in favour of the vaccine was in order to prevent “number 95, the 95th death.”
The White House COVID-19 Task Force announced on Monday that 15 million pediatric vaccine doses were distributed across the country in anticipation of the CDC’s recommendation.
In a press conference, President Joe Biden stated: “For parents all over this country, this is a day of relief and celebration. After almost 18 months of anxious worrying every time that children—your child—had a sniffle or started to cough, well, you can now protect them from this horrible virus.”
“As soon as next week, we will have enough vaccine in enough places, and parents will be able to schedule appointments to get their kids their first shot,” he added.
Approving the vaccine for 5-11 year olds will allow parents to alleviate fears about an anticipated rise in COVID-19 cases over the winter. A confluence of factors, including the increase in indoor gatherings and the opening of transatlantic airline routes for the first time in over a year, mean that the CDC and health systems nationwide are already preparing for an unstable holiday season.
Although children will not be fully vaccinated by the time winter comes around, they will still have a moderate level of protection from a single dose. This protection may help prevent school closures, which will be crucial at a time when students have had significantly interrupted education over the last two years. According to data presented at the CDC committee meeting, over 2,000 schools were forced to close between August and October, affecting over 1.2 million students.
The advisors concluded that the risks posed by contracting the virus and associated side effects, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), hospitalization or death, are far greater than any potential vaccine side effects such as myocarditis, which is likely to be at lower incidence than the general population. Moreover, 8,300 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been hospitalised with the virus, which can have significant long-term effects, including so-called ‘Long COVID’.
Dr. Matthew Oster, a CDC scientist and pediatric cardiologist at Emory University, said that “getting COVID, I think, is much riskier to the heart than getting this vaccine, no matter what age or sex.”
Despite this, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that three in ten parents are “definitely not” going to get the vaccine for their child. An equal proportion said they would allow their child to be vaccinated “right away.” However, there are still a massive number of parents planning to immunize their child before the onset of the anticipated winter rise in cases.
The approval of this vaccine means that a further 28 million children can join the ranks of the 106 million fully-vaccinated Americans, with medical regulators around the world closely watching the rollout of Pfizer in the USA.