The United States can now start giving children aged five-11 the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine, US health authorities said on Tuesday.
Days after gaining authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the vaccine was endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), clearing the way for the vaccination of up to 28 million children.
The government was well ahead of the decision, procuring enough doses for the children in the five-11 age group and beginning to ship them across the country.
It’s a move hailed by US President Joe Biden as a “turning point” in the fight against the pandemic.
“Today, we have reached a turning point in our battle against COVID-19,” Mr Biden said in a statement released by the White House.
Vaccinating younger children will “allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others. It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus,” he continued.
In Australia, Health Minister Greg Hunt personally wrote to Pfizer earlier this year, encouraging the pharmaceutical company to make an application to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
“I am heartened by your advice that trials of the Pfizer vaccine are showing promise in children under the age of 12,” Mr Hunt wrote to Pfizer Australia’s managing director Anne Harris.
“I encourage and invite Pfizer to submit a parallel application to the TGA for Australian regulatory approval at the earliest possible time.”
Following this, Pfizer provided its initial data to the TGA for approval on 26 October and health experts are optimistic the US FDA’s approval will create an encouraging precedent for Australia’s regulator by November’s end.
If the vaccine is approved, 2.3 million children in the age group in Australia will be eligible to get vaccinated.
The US government has already secured enough vaccine for every child in the country, Mr Biden said, adding that over the weekend officials began the process of packing and shipping millions of doses.
“The program will ramp up over the coming days, and (be) fully up and running during the week of 8 November,” he said.
“As a mum, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
And some parents were excited to get their children protected as soon as they heard the news.
At the Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on Tuesday a group of six children were among the first in the country to receive the vaccine.
“I could cry,” one mother, Liz Croni said. “We’ve all been waiting for it for so long for our kids to … have this almost sense of normalcy back.”
Six-year-old Kareem Omar said the shot “doesn’t really hurt”.
“Do it for the sake of America. Because it’s helping America and the world, so, life is better for each and every person on Earth,” he said.
The CDC had convened a panel of independent scientists on Tuesday to review the available data on the status of the outbreak in children, the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine, and its possible side effects during a day of live-streamed discussions.
The panel unanimously recommended the vaccine, and the CDC then endorsed that recommendation.
There have been more than 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 among five-11-year-olds in the US, and more than 8,300 hospitalisations and 100 deaths.