On Saturday, the United States authorized COVID-19 vaccines for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
The vaccines will be available this week, expanding the country’s vaccination campaign to children as young as 6 months.
Advisors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the shots for younger children, with the final go-ahead coming hours later from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the agency’s director.
“We know that millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” Walensky said in a statement.
Although the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines, it is the CDC that decides who should receive them.
Vaccines offer young children protection against hospitalization, death and possible long-term complications that are not yet clearly understood, according to the CDC’s advisory panel.
The government is already preparing for the expansion of the vaccine, with millions of doses ordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics across the country.
Approximately 18 million children will be eligible, but it remains to be seen how many will ultimately receive the vaccines. Fewer than a third of children ages 5 to 11 have done so since vaccination opened up for them last November.
Here are some things to know:
WHAT TYPES ARE AVAILABLE?
Two brands – Pfizer and Moderna – received the green light on Friday from the FDA and on Saturday from the CDC. The vaccines use the same technology, but are offered in different dose sizes and number of shots for younger children.
The Pfizer vaccine is for children ages 6 months to 4 years. The dose is one-tenth that of adults, and three injections are needed. The first two are administered three weeks apart, and the last at least two months later.
Moderna’s is for two injections, each a quarter of the adult dose, given four weeks apart for children 6 months to 5 years. The FDA has also approved a third dose, at least a month after the second, for children with immune problems that make them more vulnerable to serious illness.
CDC accepted the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that children 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated against #COVID19.
— CDC in Spanish (@CDCespanol) June 18, 2022
HOW WELL DO THEY WORK?
In studies, vaccinated youths developed levels of virus-fighting antibodies as strong as young adults, suggesting that child-size doses protect against coronavirus infections.
However, it is difficult to determine exactly its effectiveness, especially when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine.
Two doses of Moderna appeared to be only 40% effective in preventing the mildest infections at a time when the omicron variant was causing the majority of COVID-19 illnesses.
Pfizer presented study data suggesting the company saw 80% with its three injections. But Pfizer’s data was so limited — and based on such a small number of 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. Although COVID-19 has been the most dangerous for older adults, younger people, including children, can also get seriously ill.
Hospitalizations skyrocketed during the wave of rip currents. Since the start of the pandemic, some 480 children under the age of 5 are among the more than 1 million deaths from COVID-19 in the country, according to federal data.
“It’s worth vaccinating even if the number of deaths is relatively low, because these deaths are preventable with vaccination,” said Dr. Matthew Daley, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado investigator who is on the CDC’s advisory committee.
In a statement on Saturday, President Joe Biden urged parents to get their young children vaccinated as soon as possible.
WHAT VACCINE SHOULD MY CHILD RECEIVE?
Either one, said Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s chief of vaccines.
“Whatever vaccines your health care provider has, your pediatrician, that’s what I would give my child,” Marks said.
The doses haven’t been tested against each other, so experts say there’s no way to tell which one is better.
One consideration: Pfizer’s three-vaccine series takes about three months to complete, while Moderna’s two vaccines only take a month. Therefore, families who want to protect their children quickly could opt for Moderna.
WHO PROVIDES THE VACCINES?
Pediatricians, other primary care physicians, and children’s hospitals plan to supply the vaccines. A limited number of pharmacies will offer them for at least some of the under-5s.
Authorities expect most vaccines to be given in pediatricians’ offices. Many parents may feel more comfortable getting their children vaccinated at their regular doctor, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said. He predicted that the rate of vaccination will be much slower than in older populations.
“We’re going to see vaccinations ramp up for weeks and even potentially for a couple of 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 visit to the doctor.
In the studies of the Moderna and Pfizer injections in infants and young children, no other vaccines were given at the same time, so there is no data on possible side effects when that happens.
But no problems have been identified in older children or adults when COVID-19 shots and other vaccines were given together, and the CDC warns that it’s safe for younger children as well.
WHAT IF MY CHILD HAS RECENTLY HAD COVID-19?
It is estimated that around three quarters of children of all ages have been infected at some point. For older ages, the CDC has recommended vaccination anyway to reduce chances of reinfection.
Experts have noted reinfections among previously infected people and say the highest levels of protection occur in those who were vaccinated and previously infected.
The CDC has said that people can consider waiting about three months after an infection to get vaccinated.