WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. moved a step closer to expanding COVID-19 vaccinations for millions more children as a panel of government advisers on Tuesday endorsed kid-size doses of Pfizer’s shots for 5- to 11-year-olds.
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted unanimously, with one abstention, that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 in that age group outweigh any potential risks — including a heart-related side effect that’s been very rare in teens and young adults despite their use of a much higher shot dose.
While children are at lower risk of severe COVID-19 than older people, ultimately many panelists decided it’s important to give parents the choice to protect their youngsters — especially those at high risk of illness or who live in places where other precautions, like masks in schools, aren’t being used.
The virus is “not going away. We have to find a way to live with it and I think the vaccines give us a way to do that,” said FDA adviser Jeannette Lee of the University of Arkansas.
“I do think it’s a relatively close call,” said adviser Dr. Eric Rubin of Harvard University. “It’s really going to be a question of what the prevailing conditions are but we’re never going to learn about how safe this vaccine is unless we start giving it.”
The FDA isn’t bound by the panel’s recommendation and is expected to make its own decision within days.
If the FDA authorizes the kid-size doses, there’s still another step: Next week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to decide whether to recommend the shots and which youngsters should get them.
Full-strength shots made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech already are recommended for everyone 12 and older but pediatricians and many parents are clamoring for protection for younger children. The extra-contagious delta variant has caused an alarming rise in pediatric infections -- and families are frustrated with school quarantines and having to say no to sleepovers and other rites of childhood to keep the virus at bay.
States are getting ready to roll out shots for little arms -- in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine -- as soon as the government gives the OK. More than 25,000 pediatricians and other primary care providers have signed up so far to offer vaccination.
While there is less COVID-19 among 5- to 11-year-olds, they still have faced substantial illness -- including over 8,300 hospitalizations reported, about a third requiring intensive care, and nearly 100 deaths.
A study of elementary schoolchildren found the Pfizer shots are nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection -- even though the youngsters received just a third of the dose given to teens and adults.
Pfizer’s study tracked 2,268 children ages 5 to 11 who got two shots three weeks apart of either a placebo or the kid dose. Vaccinated youngsters developed levels of virus-fighting antibodies just as strong as teens and young adults who got the full-strength shots.
Starting today, all three booster doses are available for eligible Riverside County residents.
Those eligible for the Johnson & Johnson booster include:
-- People 18 years and older
-- People who are two months or more from receipt of their first dose.
Those eligible for the Moderna booster include:
-- People 65 years and older and residents in long - term care settings.
-- People aged 18-64 years with underlying medical conditions.
-- People 18-64 years who are at increased risk for COVID -19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional settings.
--People who are six months or more from receipt of their second dose
You can also schedule an appointment through Riverside University Health System-Public Health website www.rivcoph.org/covid-19-vaccine .
No doctor’s note or medical records are required to receive the booster dose.