Advisory boards to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet in the coming days to discuss authorising the Pfizer vaccine for children between five and 11 years old.
Data from the company’s clinical trials found that a paediatric dose of the vaccine – one third of that given to adults and adolescents – was safe and 90% effective.
If health officials approve the jab, 15 million doses will go out to paediatric offices, children’s hospitals and pharmacies around the country.
When could jabs for young children be approved?
The Pfizer vaccine is already approved for American adults and adolescents, but it has not yet been approved for most school-aged children.
Among those between five and 11 years old, there have been about 1.8 million cases confirmed in the US, according to the CDC. Fewer than two hundred have died, and most of those had underlying medical conditions.
Some medical experts say that, given the persistence of the Delta variant and the return to in-person schooling, vaccinating children is a crucial next step in fighting the pandemic.
“Parents need to understand the urgency of vaccination because the pandemic is not over,” said Dr James Versalovic, pathologist in chief at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH).
Dr Versalovic estimates at least 1,500 children have been diagnosed since the beginning of the pandemic with the virus at TCH, the largest children’s hospital in the US. “No age group has been spared,” he said.
On Tuesday, an independent advisory committee to the FDA will vote on whether to recommend an emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer jab for children between five and 11 years old.
The CDC will follow suit on 2 November.
What kind of opposition does it face?
Vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge for US medical authorities. Uptake in the adult population has stalled below 60% over the past several months.
Only a third of parents in a poll last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would get their children vaccinated “right away”. Another third said they would like to “wait and see”.
Some parents have expressed concern about hundreds of cases of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, that have been reported predominantly in young adults who took the vaccine, mostly after the second jab.
Heart inflammation link to Pfizer and Moderna jabs
Dr Liz Mumper, chief executive of the Rimland Center for Integrative Medicine, thinks “children should not be given treatments they do not need”, pointing to their low risk of contracting Covid and to the lack of long-term data on Covid vaccines.
“I am opposed to rolling these vaccines out to all children in a one size fits all model,” she said. “The vast majority of children already have mild cases.”
In an interview with the BBC World News America programme, an FDA advisory board member acknowledged it would be a tough decision to make. BBC