Almost exactly 18 months after the first coronavirus vaccine was authorized for adults, and after months of scientific misfires, the youngest Americans could finally get vaccinated.
During discussions scheduled for Friday and Saturday, scientific advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention debate the use of Moderna’s vaccine for children under 6 and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for those under 5. . Neither vaccine is intended for infants under 6 years of age. month. (Watch Friday’s meeting here.)
The Food and Drug Administration cleared the vaccines before the CDC panel meeting began on Friday. Assuming advisers support the vaccines, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to sign on shortly. States have already acquired millions of doses and will be ready to offer injections to children as early as Tuesday.
Pfizer’s vaccine has been available for children ages 5 to 11 since November, but less than 30% of children in that age group have received two shots.
But the push for Omicron in the United States has resulted in record numbers of hospitalizations and emergency room visits for children 6 months to 4 years old, especially among children of color, Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra said, a CDC researcher who presented epidemiological data at Friday’s meeting. . These rates were higher than those seen in older children.
More than half of hospitalized children aged 6 months to 4 years had no underlying conditions, she said.
CDC panelists spent considerable time Friday morning trying to determine how Omicron variants have altered risks for children. They noted that parents vaccinate their children against many other diseases with comparable or even lower risks of death.
The data “should just bust the myth that this infection is not life-threatening in this age group,” said Dr. Sarah Long, panelist and infectious disease expert at Drexel University College of Medicine.
Some experts have drawn parallels with the flu. Between October 2021 and April 2022, hospitalization rates for Covid-19 were as high or higher than those for influenza in recent flu seasons.
Between 63 percent and 75 percent of parents of children aged 6 months to 4 years chose to have their children vaccinated against the flu, despite wide variability in the effectiveness of these vaccines, noted Dr. Matthew Daley, senior researcher at Kaiser Permanente Colorado who leads the CDC’s vaccine task force.
Unvaccinated people aged 5 and over were 10 times more likely to die from Covid-19, compared to those who received at least two vaccine injections, Dr Daley said. The figures “provide concrete evidence that most deaths from Covid-19 can be prevented through vaccination”, he added.
Acceptance of vaccines will depend in part on the clarity of CDC recommendations. FDA clearance allows the vaccines to be used, but doctors are turning to the CDC’s advisory committee for details on how to use them.
This time around, that advice is likely to be complicated, as the two vaccines differ in almost every aspect.
For young children receiving the Moderna vaccine, the FDA has authorized two doses of 25 micrograms each, one-quarter the amount used for adults, spaced four weeks apart.
But according to data presented to the agency on Wednesday, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine – each just three micrograms, or one-tenth the adult dose – failed to produce strong immunity against the virus in young children.
To be effective, the Pfizer vaccine must be administered in three doses: the first two spaced three weeks apart, and a third at least two months later.
Some studies have suggested that vaccines may work better if the interval between doses is extended, and the CDC now says children 12 and older and young adults at low risk of Covid-19 can consider getting their second. vaccine dose eight weeks after the first .
But the United States has not collected the information needed to determine the ideal range for young children, Dr. Doran Fink, a senior FDA official, said Friday.
“We’re unlikely to get relevant data from the United States, so we’ll have to look at real-world international data,” he said.
FDA advisers also on Tuesday approved the use of Moderna’s vaccine for children ages 6 and older, but the CDC committee postponed that discussion until next Thursday.