The US 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 authorises 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 paediatricians and many parents are clamouring for protection for younger children. The extra-contagious delta variant has caused an alarming rise in paediatric 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 paediatricians and other primary care providers have signed up so far to offer vaccination.
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