CDC director signs off on COVID shot for kids 5-11

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, signed off Tuesday on giving Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 shots to all U.S. children ages 5 to 11.

It is the first opportunity for Americans under 12 to get the powerful protection of any COVID-19 vaccine.

An influential advisory panel voted earlier Tuesday that all children ages 5 to 11 should get Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 shots, putting the U.S. on the brink of a major expansion of vaccinations.

The Food and Drug Administration already has OK’d kid-size doses — just one-third of the amount given to teens and adults — as safe and effective for the younger age group.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally recommends who should receive FDA-cleared vaccines, and Walensky and its advisers decided Pfizer’s shots should be opened to all 28 million children ages 5 to 11.

Shots into little arms could begin this week, as Pfizer already is packing and shipping the first orders, millions of doses, to states and pharmacies to be ready.

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“Today is a monumental day in the course of this pandemic,” Walensky told the advisory panel Tuesday.

She said while the risk of severe disease and death is lower in young children than adults, it is real — and that COVID-19 has had a profound social, mental health and educational impact on youngsters, including widening disparities in learning.

“There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year,” Walensky said. “Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that.”

Doctors who’ve cared for hospitalized youngsters hope parents embrace Pfizer’s kid shots, saying they’re safe and far better than gambling that a child will escape a coronavirus infection.

“There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year. Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that."

- Dr. Rochelle Walensky

“I’ve seen plenty of children in this age group that have been seriously ill,” said Dr. Matthew Linam, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “The risk of significant infection is still very real in this population.”

There have been more than 8,300 hospitalizations of kids ages 5 to 11, about one-third requiring intensive care, according to government data. The CDC has recorded at least 94 deaths in that age group.

And while the U.S. has seen a recent downturn in COVID-19 cases, experts are worried about another uptick with holiday travel and as winter sends more activity indoors where it’s easier for the coronavirus to spread.