School-going children are now eligible for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, as CDC Director Rochelle Valensky has issued a recommendation supporting this version of the vaccine.
Audi Cornish, Host:
School-age children are now eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is after CDC Director Rochelle Valensky formally recommended Pfizer’s low-dose vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. His formal recommendation came just hours after a CDC advisory group voted unanimously in favor of the recommendation. Selena Siemens-Daphne, NPR Health Policy Representative, is here to tell you what happened and what happens next.
And first, Selena, director Valensky worked fast, right? How surprising was that?
Selena Siemens-Daphne, Byline: There was no doubt that she would recommend this vaccine. She spoke in support of the US Alliance, but said that maintaining some independence was important.
Cornish: But did the advisers vote unanimously?
Siemens-Daphne: It was given very little. The vote came after a one-day meeting with presentations from Pfizer and CDC scientists who worked hard to review the data. Going in today, I honestly had no idea what was going to happen. There was some controversy at the FDA’s consultative meeting last week to consider approving the vaccine, raising questions about whether it would be recommended only to children who did not have COVID-19. Or only these children will be vaccinated. Circumstances that put them at greater risk? But over the course of the day, it became clear that these 14 outside scientists were convinced and were going to vote to recommend a vaccine for all children between the ages of 5 and 11. This is Dr. Oliver Brooks explaining his tech era at the end of the day’s meeting.
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Oliver Brooks: The most important thing is that the data shown here today is that the vaccine is safe and effective, so children are dying, and we are using this safe and effective vaccine to reduce hospital admissions, cases and deaths. Which will benefit the community.
Cornish: You know, Selena, despite this kind of messaging, there are still polls that show that many parents, at least in this age group, are not sure about vaccinating their children. Have Will this vote make a difference?
Siemens Daphne: Well, we have to see. I mean, this vaccine has been a myth for parents for a long time, and now it’s different in a way that it’s going to be a real option, especially now; Cases seem to be declining. Children often get mild illness when they are infected with COVID-19. But the scientists presented today point out that the epidemic is not over, the spread is still high across the country and otherwise healthy children can get very sick. Public health officials are well aware that optics may be reduced. It was slow when children between the ages of 12 and 17 became eligible. Dr. Matthew Daly, a member of the advisory group, finally took the time to speak directly to the parents who had questions. “It’s understandable, and we hear you out loud,” he said.
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Matthew Daily: And that’s why I encourage you to talk to your child’s pediatrician or family physician. Ask your questions. Let them know what your concerns are. They know your child. They know its medical history. They know your family. And they can only help you get through it, but we’re all here to listen.
Siemens-Daphne: Other advisers said they are parents and grandparents of children this age. They have seen the data, and they believe it is safe and effective and they intend to vaccinate their loved ones.
Cornish: What could be the timetable in this case?
Siemens-Daphne: Well, it could all be really fast. These low-dose vaccine bottles – one-third of the adult vaccine dose – have already been shipped to many locations across the country. The White House is working hard on logistics. But officials have also warned that it will take a few days for pediatricians to get everything in their offices and pharmacies. Experts say they expect the rollout to be less busy than the adult vaccine rollout. This time they have plenty of vaccines, which should help, and it is expected to be fully launched next Monday, the week of November 8th.
Cornish: During this time – children under 5 years old.
Siemens-Daphne: Well, trials are under way for children under 6 months old, but the FDA has said that the group is still a few months away from being vaccinated.
Cornish: This is NPR’s Selena Siemens-Daphne.
Siemens Daphne: Thanks.
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