On October 29, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11, and the CDC signed off on November 3.
Since the start of the pandemic, about 1.9 million children ages 5-11 years have been infected. More than 8,300 have been hospitalized, and 94 have died, according to federal data. The death toll in the past year puts COVID-19 in the top 10 causes of death for this age group.
The euphoria at schools across the nation was unanimous. Ultimately, this is excellent news for young students who have been risking their health by going to school amid the delta variant.
Parents are anxious to get their children vaccinated and back to the 'old normal.'
"I have vaccinated my kids because I feel like it's safe, and I would not recommend something if I did not feel that way," said Helen Keipp Talbot, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University. "… We are parents. We have given this to our children because we have seen the devastation of this disease and the disruption in our kids' lives."
Many teachers, too, are looking forward to having children vaccinated as they will feel more comfortable in their learning environment. This may also gradually relax some protocols, as teachers in elementary schools have had to take extra precautions to keep their unvaccinated students safe.
The FDA clearance came after the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted Tuesday to back a smaller dose of the Pfizer vaccine for young children.
Dosages for this group are determined not by a child's size or weight but by their age. Some children could be 11 years old when they get their first dose and 12 at the time of their second dose.
Pfizer's low-dose vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing symptomatic infection. It has a third of the dose given to adults. Studies show it was well tolerated in young children, producing side effects comparable with those of people aged 16-25.
The Biden administration has said it's already procured enough doses to vaccinate all 28 million 5 to 11-year-olds in the U.S. and said it is ready to roll out the first 15 million shots the first week after it's approved.
Dr. Peter Marks of the FDA said the U.S. is likely "a few more months off" before vaccines are authorized for kids under age five because of possible risks.
"As we get down to younger children, the benefit/risk gets to be even more of a careful consideration because the youngest children are affected the least directly in terms of severe COVID-19," he told reporters during a briefing on October 29.
As with other age groups, there are some risks (including pericarditis and other conditions) accompanying this disease, but the CDC and FDA both said the vaccine's benefits outweigh its risks.