US opens COVID vaccine to small children, injections begin next week

NEW YORK – The United States opened up COVID-19 vaccines to infants, toddlers and preschoolers on Saturday.

The vaccines will be available next week, extending the nationwide vaccination campaign to children as young as 6 months old.

Advisors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccines for the smallest children, and final approval came hours later from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the agency.

“We know 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.

While the Food and Drug Administration approves vaccines, the CDC decides who gets them.

The injections offer young children protection against hospitalization, death and possible long-term complications that are still not clearly understood, the CDC’s advisory committee said.

The government is already preparing for the expansion of vaccines, with million doses ordered for distribution to doctors, hospitals and community health clinics across the country.

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About 18 million children will be eligible, but it remains to be seen how many will ultimately receive the vaccines. Less than a third of children aged 5 to 11 have done so since vaccination was opened to them last November.

Here are a few things to know:

WHAT TYPES ARE AVAILABLE?

Two brands — Pfizer and Moderna — got the green light Friday from the FDA and CDC Saturday. The vaccines use the same technology but come in different dose sizes and number of injections for younger people.

Pfizer’s vaccine is for children 6 months to 4 years old. The dose is one tenth of the adult dose and three injections are required. The first two are given three weeks apart and the last at least two months later.

Moderna is made up of two injections, each one a quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart for children 6 months to 5 years old. The FDA has also approved a third dose, at least one month after the second injection, for children with immune disorders that make them more susceptible to serious illnesses.

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DO THEY WORK WELL?

In studies, young vaccinees have developed anti-virus antibody levels as strong as young adults, suggesting that child-sized doses protect against coronavirus infections.

However, it is difficult to determine exactly how well they work, especially when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine.

Two doses of Moderna appeared to be only about 40% effective in preventing milder infections at a time when the omicron variant was causing most COVID-19-related illness. Pfizer presented study information 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 believe a reliable estimate yet exists.

SHOULD I VACCINATE MY TODDLER?

Yes, according to the CDC. While COVID-19 has been most dangerous for older people, younger people, including children, can also get very sick.

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Hospitalizations jumped during the omicron wave. Since the start of the pandemic, about 480 children under the age of 5 have been counted among the more than one million COVID-19 deaths nationwide, according to federal data.

“It’s worth vaccinating even if the number of deaths is relatively rare, because those deaths can be prevented through vaccination,” said Dr. Matthew Daley, a Kaiser Permanente Colorado researcher who serves on the CDC’s advisory board.

In a statement on Saturday, President Joe Biden urged parents to get them for their young children as soon as possible.

WHAT VACCINE SHOULD MY CHILD GET?

One or the other, said FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks.

“Whatever vaccine your health care provider, pediatrician, is what I would give my child,” Marks said Friday.

The doses haven’t been tested against each other, so experts say there’s no way to tell if one is better.

One consideration: It takes about three months to complete Pfizer’s three-shot series, but only one month for Moderna’s two-shot. So families looking to protect their children quickly might want Moderna.

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WHO DOES THE BLOWS?

Pediatricians, other primary care physicians and children’s hospitals plan to provide the vaccines. Limited pharmacies will offer them for at least some of the under-5 age group.

US officials expect most of the shootings to take place in pediatricians’ offices. Many parents may be more comfortable having their children vaccinated at their regular doctor, said White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. He predicted that the pace of vaccination will be much slower than it was for older populations.

“We’re going to see vaccinations ramp up over weeks and potentially even months,” Jha said.

CAN CHILDREN RECEIVE OTHER VACCINES AT THE SAME TIME?

It is common for small children to receive more than one vaccine during a visit to the doctor.

In studies of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in infants and toddlers, other vaccines were not given at the same time, so there is no data on potential side effects when this occurs.

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But no problems have been identified in older children or adults when COVID-19 shots and other vaccines have been given together, and the CDC says it’s safe for young children as well.

WHAT IF MY CHILD RECENTLY HAD COVID-19?

About three quarters of children It is estimated that all ages have been infected at some point. For older people, the CDC still recommended vaccination to reduce the risk of reinfection.

Experts have noted reinfections among previously infected people and say the highest levels of protection occur in those who have been both vaccinated and previously infected.

The CDC said people might consider waiting about three months after an infection to get vaccinated.

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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