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CDC provides remaining OK to rapid distribution of Pfizer Covid vaccine to youngsters ages 5-11

Children ages 5-11 can get a Covid-19 vaccine after the CDC released Pfizer doses to younger children Tuesday night, so many parents in the US can breathe a sigh of relief.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky approved the vaccine hours after a unanimous recommendation from the Agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The vaccinations for young children should start immediately.

Some parents have been counting the minutes until US regulators clear the shots so their children can return to “normal” personal learning, exercise and other extracurricular activities that have largely been put on hold due to the pandemic.

The vaccine is given to children in smaller doses, one-third the dose given to teenagers and adults.

“Too many children have either lost a parent or orphaned in this pandemic, which is incredibly tragic,” said committee member Dr. Camille Kotton shortly before the vote. “As an infectious disease specialist and a mother who vaccinated her two children, I fully support the recommendation of this vaccine for this age group.”

Children generally suffer less severe cases of Covid than adults, but a small proportion of them do, Walensky told the committee before the vote. At least 2,316 children, ages 5-11, have suffered from childhood multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, a rare but serious complication associated with Covid, according to the data shared by the CDC at the meeting.

In addition, there have been at least 1.9 million Covid cases, 8,300 hospital admissions and at least 94 deaths in the age group, said CDC advisor Dr. Matthew Daley to the committee. The burden of the pandemic is beyond the number of cases, he said, adding that Covid has led to school closings across the country.

“The likelihood that a child will have severe Covid, be hospitalized, or develop a long-term complication like MIS-C is still slim,” said Walensky. “Even so, the risk for our children remains too high and too devastating, and much higher for many of the other diseases that we vaccinate our children against.”

Fully vaccinating 1 million children ages 5-11 would prevent 58,000 Covid infections, 241 hospital admissions, 77 ICU stays, and one death, according to a modeled scenario released by the Food and Drug Administration last week. Up to 106 children would have vaccine-induced myocarditis, but most would recover, according to the agency.

The FDA issued an emergency clearance for the shots on Friday. The White House said Monday it had started moving 15 million cans from Pfizer’s freezers and facilities to distribution centers. The Biden government said it had procured enough vaccine to vaccinate all 28 million 5-11 year olds in the U.S. and will be distributing it in smaller doses and with smaller needles to make it easier for pediatricians and pharmacists to get children administer.

“As of the week of November 8, the infant vaccination program will be fully operational,” said Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, Monday. “Parents will be able to schedule appointments in appropriate places that they know and trust to get their children vaccinated.”

Pfizer, who developed the vaccine with BioNTech, said Tuesday its clinical study for children ages 5 to 11 found the syringes well tolerated, with the most common side effects being mild and comparable to those seen in one study have been observed in adolescents and adults aged 16 to 16 years 25. Common side effects in teenagers and adults are fatigue, headache, muscle aches, chills, fever, and nausea, according to the CDC.

Federal authorities announced last week that they were monitoring for two rare heart infections, myocarditis and pericarditis, that have occurred in a very small number of young adults who have received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. There were no cases of myocarditis in Pfizer’s study for children, but officials said the study may have been too small to identify the rare heart disease.

The condition is not expected to be as common in children ages 5-11 as it is in teenagers, said Dr. Matthew Oster, a pediatric cardiologist with the CDC, joined the committee on Tuesday.

“There are a number of different physiological mechanisms and reasons for this,” said Oster, noting that nothing has been proven. “One of the most common thoughts, however, is that hormones certainly play a role, especially for testosterone.”

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