This post has been updated. It was originally published on October 26, 2021.
Yesterday, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which is an independent group of experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), met for a day-long meeting to discuss whether they should recommend Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged 5 to 11. In an unanimous vote, the advisors recommended the vaccine for this young age group. Hours later, Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, gave the go-ahead as well, officially recommending the vaccine for this age group.
The CDC recommendation comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children in the US aged 5 to 11 years old last week. That go-ahead came after months of testing and scrutiny over the safety and benefits of the vaccine for this younger age group.
An advisory panel had previously endorsed the vaccine to be given at one-third the dose of what adults and older kids (ages 12 to 17) get now. The two-shot series is given three weeks apart. With this authorization, 28 million more children are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Can my kid get it now?
Getting a vaccine authorized and recommended for use is a multi-step process. The FDA first hears from its advisory panel. In this case, this meeting happened late last month and the panel recommended the Pfizer vaccine for kids aged 5 to 11. Then the FDA itself uses that recommendation to inform its own decision. Again, the FDA authorized the vaccine on Friday.
Following the FDA’s recommendation, the CDC’s advisory panel meets and makes their own recommendation. Finally, the CDC makes a final call on whether it will recommend the vaccine as well. Most doctors and pharmacists look to the CDC for guidance, so vaccines for this age group could be available in just a couple weeks now that many large hurdles have been passed.
With the CDC’s recommendation, the vaccines will likely be available in the coming days. Unlike the mass vaccination sites that were set up for adults when the vaccines first started rolling out, it’s likely that kids will be vaccinated in smaller setups, including local pharmacies and doctor’s offices.
[Related: Pfizer’s data on COVID vaccines for young kids has some important footnotes]
Is it safe for kids?
Over the past few months, experts have questioned whether younger kids as a whole would benefit from the vaccine, or if the vaccine’s use in this population should be restricted to children in high-risk groups, such as those with preexisting conditions or those who take medications that affect how their immune systems function.
During the FDA advisors’ day-long meeting in October, Pfizer noted two large cohort studies the company did—the first following around 2,200 kids for two months and the second for two-and-a-half weeks. The company noted that there were no major safety concerns and that the vaccine had an efficacy rate of 91 percent against cases of symptomatic COVID.
Particularly, the FDA had been concerned over cases of myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscles, following the second dose of mRNA vaccines, including Pfizer’s. However, the FDA advisors noted that the condition tends to be mild at worst and typically resolves on its own.