This week many families with young kids can breathe a sigh of relief. For the first time in two years since the pandemic began, two COVID-19 vaccines will be available for children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years living in the US. The announcement comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unanimously voted last week to recommend emergency use authorization for two mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The vaccines could increase protection against the virus for 20 million more children nationwide.
The Biden administration plans to ship 10 million vaccine doses to multiple states who preordered the vaccines with millions more to come in the coming weeks. Deliveries will first go to top-priority sites like pediatric hospitals where there are many high-risk kids. Every state except for Florida has ordered vaccine doses in preparation for the approval, meaning almost the entire country will have vaccines available as early as June 21. The Florida government only allowed doctors to order COVID vaccines for children under 5 starting last Friday, though the state’s Department of Health says it “has always been available to providers.” Florida officials also noted that they won’t help distribute the shots or encourage parents to get the treatments to their children. As such, the vaccines are expected to be delayed by a few days in the state.
Parents elsewhere in the US can set up appointments at pediatrician offices, community health centers, hospitals, or at local pharmacies. “As doses arrive in places throughout the country, more sites will have vaccines and more appointments will become available. Our expectation is that within weeks, every parent who wants their child to get vaccinated will be able to get an appointment,” said Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, in a press briefing earlier this month.
While vaccines will be sent to pharmacies, a federal law prohibits many states from allowing a pharmacist to vaccine children younger than 3. Walgreens said it will vaccinate children older than 3; CVS will offer vaccines for children between 18 months and 4 years at 1,100 MinuteClinic locations, according to Yahoo News.
But for the large part, family doctors will be the ones to vaccinate young children against COVID. “The first place that I’d encourage eager parents to consult is their pediatrician’s office. Parents are used to getting kids vaccinated there, and the pediatrician will know when and if they plan on giving the COVID-19 vaccine,” Leana Wen, an emergency physician and CNN medical analyst said in a broadcast.
Guardians might also wonder which vaccine they should choose for their children. Like the COVID-19 vaccines for adults, pharmacies and doctor’s offices will carry either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech option. But individuals can call ahead or look on a pharmacy’s website to see which place has their preferred vaccine.
As for which formulation works better, clinical trial data shows both are safe and effective. Pfizer-BioNTech’s three-dose vaccine is meant for children 6 months to 4 years and Moderna is expected to receive authorization for children between 6 months and 5 years.
For parents who want to get children fully vaccinated right away, the two-dose Moderna vaccine may be the way to go. “If a child starts the series next week, they could be fully vaccinated by mid-August and in time for the next school year,” Wen also told CNN. The Pfizer-BioNTech three-dose regimen will take longer but offers 80.3-percent effectiveness in preventing symptomatic cases.
Timing is also important as new waves of COVID spread across the country. Omicron caused a high number of pediatric cases, and children under 5 were five times more likely to be hospitalized than with the previously dominant Delta variant. While children are at low risk for severe COVID-19 infections, they can still carry the virus and spread it to others. Vaccinations can help slow the spread of the virus, prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with cases, and give families greater confidence when sending kids to school in this new normal.