The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s committee of vaccine experts unanimously recommended that children ages 12 to 15 get Pfizer’s two-dose coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for shots to go into arms as soon as Thursday.
Fourteen members voted to approve the expanded authorizations, while one person abstained from the vote.
While the Food and Drug Administration widened authorization for the shots to include children in that age range on Monday, the go-ahead from the CDC is the final step before providers begin administering the vaccine. The vaccine experts on the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended giving the shots to the age group in question after an all-day session of parsing through clinical trial data with a question-and-answer session. The recommendation will become official with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s signoff.
Pfizer will have to continue monitoring reactions to the shots in young people. Some members of the committee were concerned that Pfizer’s clinical trial, which enrolled 2,260 children ages 12-15, was too small to be conclusive. Meanwhile, Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, an ACIP member and pediatric infectious disease expert, said Wednesday that the positive clinical trial findings are robust enough to prove the benefits of giving the vaccine to children outweigh the risks.
“We recognize that there are some gaps in information that need to be collected, but we don’t really think that these should be considered barriers to moving forward,” Maldonado said. “Granted, we aren’t seeing tens of thousands of deaths that we are seeing in adults, but … the fact that we’re seeing this pandemic cause deaths in children that are unprecedented is a critical need.”
The drugmaker announced last month that its two-dose vaccine, initially authorized for use in people ages 16 and older, was safe and 100% effective for adolescents. Of the 2,260 adolescents in that age range in the study, no cases were diagnosed in the group that received the vaccine. Meanwhile, 18 participants who received the placebo were later infected.
Health departments and hospital systems across the United States are prepared to begin giving out shots to young patients this week. For instance, Pennsylvania Health Department Secretary Alison Beam said on Tuesday that “vaccine providers will be ready to begin vaccinating these young people” as soon as federal regulators give them the go-ahead. Similarly, health officials in Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, announced on Tuesday that the department will expand hours at five mass vaccination sites to “accommodate the expected increase in demand when the vaccine is approved for adolescents, 12 to 15.”
At this point in the vaccine rollout process, providers are in a better position to store the high-maintenance shots in specialized ultracold freezers. Already, providers have administered at least one dose of a vaccine to more than 58% of the adult population. Extending eligibility to children, who make up about 23% of the U.S. population, is meant to bring the country closer to sustained suppression of community transmission.
Scientists do not know exactly what percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which occurs when a large part of the population becomes immune to a virus through vaccination or infection. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, has estimated that 70% to 85% of the population would need to be immunized to extinguish the virus. Fauci and other public health experts have argued that vaccinating children will be needed to drive the U.S. toward that immunity threshold.