The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday recommended COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as six months old.
The decision will lead to the nationwide rollout starting next week.
The CDC’s move came after a panel of advisors voted earlier on Saturday to recommend the vaccines for small children.
“We know millions of parents and caregivers would like to have their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement.
San Diego County public health officials anticipated the decision earlier this week, encouraging parents to plan to get injections for their smaller children.
“Some parents have been eagerly awaiting the COVID vaccine for their younger children,” said Dr. Wilma J. Wooten, the county’s public health officer. “They need to make an appointment to get them vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the injection of Moderna Inc. for children aged six months to five years and for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged six months to four years.
Pfizer’s vaccine is already approved for children over the age of five.
“This infection is killing children and we have a chance to prevent that,” Beth Bell, one of the doctors on the advisory panel, said after the vote. “This is an opportunity to avoid a known risk.”
Education Minister Miguel Cardona called the move a “historic milestone” in a statement.
The administration of President Joe Biden plans to quickly roll out the vaccines to the under-five age groups.
“Next week, parents can schedule appointments in places such as pediatric practices, children’s hospitals and pharmacies,” Biden said in a statement Saturday.
“The number of appointments will increase as more doses are sent, and in the coming weeks any parent who wants a vaccine will be able to get one. As the vaccination program ramps up, Vaccines.gov will be live next week, increasing vaccine availability and number of appointments throughout the week.”
While many parents in the US would like to vaccinate their children, it is unclear how big the demand for the injections will be. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved in October for children ages 5 to 11, but only about 29% of that group have been fully vaccinated so far, federal data shows.
CVS Health Corp. plans to provide vaccines to children 18 months and older, while Rite Aid Corp. and Walmart Inc. plan to offer injections to children who are at least three years old. Infants are traditionally vaccinated at a doctor’s office.
Public health officials have pushed for vaccinations for children ahead of the new school year, as they hope that age-group injections will help prevent hospitalizations and deaths if the number of COVID-19 cases rises again.
The infection is generally milder in children. Still, as of March 2020, it is the fifth leading cause of death in children ages 1-4 and the fourth leading cause of death in children under age one, according to the CDC.
The CDC advisors will meet again next week to consider whether to support the use of the Moderna vaccine for children and adolescents ages 6-17. There has been some concern about the rate of rare heart infections in teenage boys and young men on the Moderna vaccine, and consultants are expected to consider that data.
(Additional reporting by Leroy Leo, Manas and Jaiveer Singh Shekhawat in Bengaluru, edited by Paul Simao, Franklin Paul and Daniel Wallis)