NEW YORK – The United States on Saturday opened up COVID-19 vaccines for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
The shots will become available this week, propelling the nation’s vaccination campaign to babies under 6 months old.
Advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccines for the youngest children, and the final hint came hours later from the agency’s director, Dr. Rochelle Valensky.
“We know that millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision they can do so,” Valensky said in a statement.
While the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines, it is the CDC that decides who should receive them.
The CDC’s advisory panel said the shots protect young children from hospitalization, death and potential long-term complications that are still not clearly understood.
The government is already gearing up to expand the vaccine, with millions of doses ordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics across the country.
Roughly 18 million children will be eligible, but it remains to be seen how many will eventually get the vaccine. Less than a third of children aged 5 to 11 have done so since vaccination opened last November.
Here are some things to know:
How are they available?
Two brands — Pfizer and Moderna — got the green light from the FDA on Friday and from the CDC on Saturday. Vaccines use the same technology but are being offered for younger children in different dosage sizes and numbers of shots.
The Pfizer vaccine is for children aged 6 months to 4 years. The dosage is one-tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given a gap of three weeks, and the last at least two months later.
Moderna has two shots, each one quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart for children 6 months to 5 years old. The FDA also approved a third dose for children with immune conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness, at least one month after the second shot.
How well do they work?
In studies, vaccinated youth developed the same levels of virus-fighting antibodies as young adults, suggesting that child-sized doses protect against coronavirus infection.
However, it’s hard to tell exactly how well they work, especially when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine.
Two doses of Moderna appeared to be about 40% effective in preventing minor infections at a time when the Omicron variant was causing most of the COVID-19 illnesses. Pfizer presented study information suggesting the company saw 80% with its three shots. But the Pfizer data was so limited — and based on so few cases — that experts and federal officials say they don’t think there’s a reliable estimate yet.
Should my child be vaccinated?
Yes, according to the CDC. While COVID-19 has been most dangerous for older adults, younger people, including children, can also become very ill.
Hospitalizations increased during the omicron wave. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 480 children under the age of 5 have been counted in the nation’s more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths, according to federal figures.
Matthew Daly, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado researcher who sits on the CDC’s advisory committee, said, “It is worth vaccinating, even though the number of deaths is relatively rare, because these deaths can be prevented through vaccination.”
In a statement on Saturday, President Joe Biden urged parents to get to their young children as soon as possible.
Which vaccine should my child get?
Either one, said Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s chief of vaccines.
“Whatever vaccine your health care provider, the pediatrician has, I will give to my child,” Marks said Friday.
The supplements haven’t been tested against each other, so experts say there’s no way to tell if one is better.
One thought: Pfizer’s three-shot series takes about three months to complete, but just one month for Moderna’s two-shots. That’s why families eager to quickly protect the kids want Moderna.
Who’s giving the shot?
Pediatricians, other primary care physicians and children’s hospitals are planning to make vaccines available. Limited drug stores will offer them for at least some under-5 group.
US officials expect most shots to take place in pediatricians’ offices. White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr Ashish Jha said many parents may be more comfortable getting the vaccine for their children from their regular doctor. He predicted that the pace of vaccination would be much slower than in the older population.
“We are going to see vaccination in a few weeks and potentially in a few months,” Jha said.
Can children get other vaccines at the same time?
It is common for young children to have more than one vaccine when they visit the doctor.
In the study of Moderna and Pfizer shots in infants and children, other vaccinations were not given at the same time, so there are no data on possible side effects if this occurs.
But problems have not been identified in older children or adults when COVID-19 shots and other vaccinations were given together, and the CDC is advising that it is 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 people, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated anyway to reduce the chance of re-infection.
Experts have noted reinfection in previously infected people and say the highest level of protection is in people who have been vaccinated and already infected.
The CDC has said that people may consider waiting about three months after getting vaccinated for the infection.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
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