Pfizer asks FDA to allow COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 5

The FDA’s ultimate decision could come within the month but that is not the only hurdle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has to sign off.

The Biden administration has been trying to speed up the authorization of COVID-19 shots for children, contending vaccinations are critical for opening schools and day care centers and keeping them open, and for freeing up parents from child care duties so they can go back to work .

Yet vaccination rates have been lower among children than in other age groups. As of last week, just 20% of kids ages 5 to 11 and just over half of 12- to 17-year-olds were fully vaccinated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nearly three-quarters of adults are fully vaccinated.

While young children are far less likely than adults to get severely ill from the coronavirus, it can happen, and pediatric COVID-19 infections are higher than at any other point in the pandemic.

“What we’re seeing right now is still a lot of hospitalizations and unfortunately some deaths in this age group,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary of the University of Colorado, who is on the AAP’s infectious disease committee. If the FDA clears vaccinations for these youngsters, “that’s going to be really important because all of those hospitalizations and deaths are essentially preventable.”

For kids under 5, Pfizer’s study is giving participants two shots three weeks apart, followed by a third dose at least two months later. The company is testing whether the youngsters produce antibody levels similar to those known to protect teens and young adults.

In December, Pfizer announced that children under 2 looked to be protected but that the antibody response was too low in 2- to 4-year-olds. It’s not clear why, but one possibility is that the extra-low dose was a little too low for the preschoolers.

Since the preliminary results showed the shots were safe, Pfizer added a third dose to the testing in hopes of improving protection.

Given how well boosters are working for older age groups, “it makes some sense” that younger children could benefit from a third shot, O’Leary said. “I certainly can understand where both the company and the FDA are coming from in terms of wanting to move this along, anticipating that there’s going to be a third dose down the line.”

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