Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky signed off on a vote from a panel of experts to recommend COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as six months, making it likely a nationwide rollout can start as early as next week.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized Moderna Inc's shot for children aged six months to 5 years, and Pfizer-BioNTech's, vaccine for children aged six months to 4 years. Pfizer's vaccine is already authorized for children over the age of 5.
"This infection kills children, and we have an opportunity to prevent that," Beth Bell, one of the doctors on the panel, said following the vote. "Here is an opportunity to prevent a known risk."
President Joe Biden's administration plans to roll out the vaccines to the under-5 age groups as early as next week.
"We will begin shipping millions of vaccine doses for kids to thousands of locations parents know and trust – including pediatricians' offices, children's hospitals, and pharmacies," Biden said in a statement on Friday.
"As doses are delivered, parents will be able to start scheduling vaccinations for their youngest kids as early as next week, with appointments ramping up over the coming days and weeks."
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While many parents in the United States are eager to vaccinate their children, it is unclear how strong demand will be for the shots. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for children aged 5 to 11 in October, but only about 29% of that group is so far fully vaccinated, federal data shows.
CVS Health Corp plans to provide vaccines to children aged 18 months and older while Rite Aid Corp and Walmart Inc. plan to offer these shots for kids who are at least 3 years old. Infants are traditionally vaccinated at a doctor's office.
Public health officials have been pushing for childhood vaccinations ahead of the new school year as they hope shots for the age group will help prevent hospitalizations and deaths if COVID-19 cases rise again.
COVID-19 is generally more mild in children. Still, since March 2020 it has been the fifth leading cause of deaths in children aged 1-4 and the fourth leading cause of death in children younger than one, according to the CDC.
The CDC advisers will meet again next week to consider whether to back use of the Moderna vaccine for children and adolescents aged 6-17. There has been some concern about the rate of rare cases of heart inflammation in teenage boys and young men from the Moderna vaccine, and the advisers are expected to consider that data.