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US can start giving children aged 5 to 11 Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: CDC

US can start giving children aged 5 to 11 Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine: CDC

A medical worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. (File photo: REUTERS/Stephane Mahe)

WASHINGTON: The director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday (Nov 2) backed broad use of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine in children aged five to 11, clearing the way for shots to go into young arms as soon as Wednesday.

The announcement comes hours after the advisers to the US CDC unanimously supported the move, saying the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. Much of their discussion stemmed from rare cases of heart inflammation that have been linked to the vaccine, particularly in young men.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency use authorisation of the vaccine in five- to 11-year-olds on Friday.

The FDA authorised a 10-microgram dose of Pfizer's vaccine in young children. The original shot given to those aged 12 and older is 30 micrograms.

"We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in the statement.

At the outset of the meeting, Walensky said that paediatric hospitalisations had surged during the recent wave driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

The risk from COVID-19 "is too high and too devastating to our children and far higher than for many other diseases for which we vaccinate children", she said.

Walensky said school closures have had detrimental social and mental health impacts on children.

"Paediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that," she said.

US President Joe Biden described the authorisation as a turning point in the battle against COVID-19.

"The program will ramp up over the coming days, and (be) fully up and running during the week of Nov 8. Parents will be able to bring their children to thousands of pharmacies, paediatricians' offices, schools, and other sites to get vaccinated," Biden said in a statement.


The CDC presented data suggesting that every million shots of the vaccine administered could prevent between 80 to 226 hospitalisations in children aged five to 11. About 28 million children will be eligible for the shot.

The panel members spoke enthusiastically in favour of vaccination of the age group ahead of the vote. Many said they were eager for their children or grandchildren in the age range to get the shots.

"I feel that I have a responsibility - we all have a responsibility - to make this vaccine available to children and to their parents," said panel member Dr Beth Bell of the University of Washington School of Public Health.

"We have excellent evidence of efficacy and safety. We have a favourable risk-benefit analysis. And we have many parents out there who really are clamouring and want to have their children vaccinated."

Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine showed 90.7 per cent efficacy against the coronavirus in a clinical trial of children aged five to 11.

"The vote was unanimous because the evidence is so clear. Kids five to 11 are better off vaccinated," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health who was not a panel member, said in a Twitter post after the vote.

The US government and Pfizer have already begun distributing the vaccine in preparation for a widespread roll-out for children, many of whom are back in school for in-person learning.

"We've shipped to dozens of states already over the weekend and Monday," Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said in an interview. "There is a Herculean effort so there will be doses available everywhere."

Earlier this week, the White House said the United States has enough supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for all 28 million children aged five to 11.

While some children may be able to get their first shots as soon as Wednesday, the plans is for the US paediatric vaccine program to be running at full strength by next week, a Biden administration official said.

Only a few other countries, including China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates, have so far cleared COVID-19 vaccines for children in this age group and younger.

In the United States, around 58 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, lagging other nations such as the United Kingdom and France.

The share of young children who receive the shots may be even lower. Only about 47 per cent of US youth aged 12 to 15 are vaccinated.

US states with the highest adult COVID-19 vaccination rates are planning a big vaccine push compared with states where hesitancy remains strong, potentially widening the gaps in protection nationwide, public health officials and experts have said.

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Source: AGENCIES/dv


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