US to decide on COVID vaccines for small children
Washington, Jun 16: Following months of anxiety for American parents, a panel of experts organized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) met on Wednesday to look into recommending COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 years old.
Children under the age of 5 are the only age group who are currently ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines. If approved, vaccines would then be available to all age groups in the US.
If the committee of experts vote in favor of the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, formal authorization is expected to quickly follow and the first jabs could be administered as soon as next week.
What happened during the meeting?
At the start of the meeting, Peter Marks, a senior scientist with the FDA, said that even though the majority of children have had COVID-19, the high rate of hospitalizations among those under five during the Omicron wave last winter highlights the need for immediate action.
"We have to be careful we don't become numb to the pediatric deaths because of the overwhelming number of older deaths," Marks said.
"Every life is important and vaccine-preventable deaths are something we would like to try to do something about."
The US has seen 480 children under five die of COVID-19 during the pandemic, according to official statistics. The number is far higher than during even a "terrible flu season" like the one in 2009-2010 during the H1N1 bird flu strain. By contrast, 78 young children died of bird flu.
"Each child that's lost essentially fractures a family," Marks said.
What is behind the FDA's decision to convene experts now?
Before the meeting, the FDA shared its independent analyses of the vaccines' effectiveness, labeling both jabs safe and effective.
The BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both rely on messenger RNA to delivers genetic code for the COVID-19 spike protein to human cells. This trains the immune system to handle the coronavirus.
The vaccines have been tested in trials already involving thousands of children. The results of those trials showed young children have similar levels of mild side effects as older people.
The FDA found that the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine was 81% effective against infection in the youngest children as compared to 51% for children agent six months to two years old and 37% for children aged two to five with the Moderna vaccine.
Both figures are provisional, however, as BioNTech-Pfizer has yet to complete its study and Moderna is currently looking into adding a third dose.
In the US, there are 20 million children under the age of 4.
US officials' statistics suggest just under one-third of children ages 5 to 11 have been vaccinated with BioNTech-Pfizer jabs since they were authorized for that age group last November.