Vaccines for children under 5 could come this month
WASHINGTON — Coronavirus vaccines could be available to children under the age of 5 in days, potentially bringing relief to millions of parents who have not been able to vaccinate their children since vaccination efforts began in late 2020.
“We’ve waited a long time for this moment,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, who leads the White House pandemic response team, said during a news conference on Thursday. “We are on the cusp of safe, highly effective vaccines for children under the age of 5.”
The vaccines have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which the agency is expected to do next week. Moderna and Pfizer have both presented data showing their vaccines are safe and effective against the coronavirus. If the FDA approves the vaccines, a panel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet late next week, a senior administration official told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday night.
If both agencies offer their approval, “it would be a historic milestone in the nation’s fight against the virus,” the senior administration official told reporters. “That would mean that almost every American is now entitled to the protection that vaccination offers.”
Monday June 20 marks Juneteenth, a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. (The holiday itself is June 19, which coincidentally falls on a Sunday this year.) The Biden administration expects vaccination for children under the age of 5 to begin this Tuesday, June 21.
“Vaccinations will be available from a variety of trusted places, but we know many families will actually be reaching out to their pediatricians and GPs,” the senior administration official said. “And we stand ready to support these frontline providers.”
At the press conference the following day, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said a public information campaign would emphasize the safety and effectiveness of childhood vaccines. The campaign would involve superheroes, he said, without specifying which.
The federal government has been criticized for the delay in approving vaccines for young children, but Jha and others have defended the process as one that adheres to rigorous science that parents can trust. Misinformation has plagued the nation’s response to the pandemic from the start and the broader issue of child vaccination has fallen victim to sophisticated disinformation campaigns for decades.
“What we’re going to do in this vaccination effort builds on all of the lessons we’ve learned over the past 18 months,” Murthy said.
Childhood immunization rates have remained relatively unchanged with moderate uptake: 59.6% of adolescents aged 12-17 are fully vaccinated, according to CDC; for children between the ages of 5 and 12, the proportion drops to 29.3%.
Serious and fatal cases of COVID-19 in young children are very rare but have been recorded. According to CDC, 442 children under the age of 5 have died from the disease. Still, the vaccine could offer an extra layer of safety as families travel throughout the summer and children return to schools and care facilities next fall.
Murthy, who has two young children, has frequently drawn on his own experiences as a parent to reassure others. The Surgeon General did so again on Thursday. “It’s worth taking this step,” he said of childhood vaccination, placing a hand on his heart. “That’s why I had my 5-year-old vaccinated. Therefore, if a vaccine is available for children under the age of 5, I will be in line with my 4-year-old to get her vaccinated as well.”
How are vaccination rates impacting the recent COVID surge? Check out this Yahoo Immersive explainer to find out.
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