On Tuesday, a panel from the US Center for Disease Control unanimously recommended that the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine be approved for children aged 5 to 11, signalling another advance toward the ubiquitous availability of vaccinations in the United States.
The panel’s recommendation needed to be signed off by the CDC’s director, Dr Rochelle Walensky. Her formalisation of the approval could signify the start of vaccination for children in that age group as soon as Wednesday.
Last Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration tendered its near-unanimous emergency use authorisation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, making it the first vaccine to be approved for children under 12. The two doses, administered three weeks apart, are roughly one third that of the vaccine used for people aged 12 and older.
Efficacy and impact
The FDA stated that the vaccine was at least 90.7% effective at preventing Covid-19 in the 5-11 age range, and that it was generally safe, though some parents have expressed concerns about vaccinating their young children.
Known cases of Covid-19 among children aged 5 to 11 have been relatively infrequent and deaths have been very few in number, but the hope is that vaccinations will limit the spread of the virus significantly while diminishing the direct impact on that age range. As total Covid deaths in the United States approach 750,000, fewer than 200 deaths have occurred in the 5-to-11 age range.
Despite a low proportion of reported cases in that age range, the CDC maintained that children were at least as likely as adults to contract the virus. The CDC estimated that every million vaccinations in that age group would prevent around 58,000 cases and more than 200 hospitalisations among the population aged 5 to 11.
Around the globe from South America to Southeast Asia, variants have thrown curves to epidemiologists and public health officials. In the US, the Delta variant and others were part of what prompted a third “booster” injection to be made available, though the boosters were not targetted toward a particular variant. Potential mutations and future variations of the virus continue to pose a threat.
“Vaccination of 5-to-11-olds would dampen but not eliminate a new variant emergence,” the CDC said.
Schools and the holidays
The possibility of vaccination for all school-aged children may also ease the minds of many educators and parents. They have dealt with uncertainty not only about the spread of the virus in schools but with the logistical tug-of-war between schools re-opening, then facing quarantines and closures.
According to the CDC, from 2 August to 22 October, in a relatively comprehensive sample of the current scholastic year, more than 1.2 million students and over 78,000 educators were affected by the closure of 2,351 schools from 313 districts.
The emergency approval guidance also comes just as officials were raising concerns of a potential spike in cases with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and other winter holidays producing heavy upticks in travel and indoor gatherings.
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