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CDC OKs vaccinations for children 6 months to 5 years old


It's been a long wait, but parents of very young children will finally get to start vaccinating their kids against COVID-19. The first vaccines for children younger than 5 today got a thumbs-up from regulators. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now to tell us more. Hi, Rob.


FLORIDO: Rob, this is something that a lot of parents have been anxiously, eagerly awaiting for a very long time. So what happened today?

STEIN: Yeah. Yeah. So a key advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted unanimously to recommend babies, toddlers and preschoolers get one of two vaccines. These were vaccines that were finally authorized by the Food and Drug Administration earlier this week, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky immediately endorsed that recommendation. And that is the final step in what has been a long, frustrating process - frustrating for parents, the companies, regulators - in clearing the vaccines. Here's how Dr. Adam Ratner from New York University reacted. He's speaking on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics.


ADAM RATNER: I am tremendously excited. This is a day that a lot of us have been waiting for since the very beginning of the pandemic. It has taken a long time, but we're finally at the point where we can give vaccine protection to the youngest children.

STEIN: So Adrian, these are low-dose pediatric versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that can now be given to kids as young as 6 months old.

FLORIDO: You said, Rob, that this was a unanimous decision today. So why did all of this take so long?

STEIN: Yeah, well, you asked a good question. Well, the big problem was coming up with the right dose - a dose that would stimulate the immune system enough, but also be safe, and the companies finally did it. All the evidence indicates that the vaccines are very safe for these littlest kids and should help protect them from getting seriously ill. But, you know, that's based primarily on how the immune systems of little kids in company studies responded to the shots, which looks good. But there's still really isn't enough data yet to get a clear sense of just how strong the protection from the vaccines will be, especially against omicron, and how long that protection will last. That said, the committee members concluded whatever benefits the vaccines might provide was crucial, even though COVID may not pose as much of a threat to most kids as it does to adults. Here's Dr. Beth Bell from the University of Washington at the end of today - of the two-day meeting.


BETH BELL: Yes, we don't know everything that there is to be known about this. Yes, the data may change. But we have a bottom line here, which is that this infection kills children, and we have an opportunity to prevent that.

STEIN: Assuming enough parents are willing to get their littlest kids vaccinated now.

FLORIDO: What do we know about how much demand there is going to be for these vaccines?

STEIN: Yeah, another good question. Many parents will rush right out, but most, honestly, probably won't. Only about a third of parents of these young kids say they'll vaccinate their kids right away. Those that do will have to decide which vaccine to get. There are pros and cons to each. Moderna's is only two shots, given a month apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech requires three shots over three months, but the Moderna vaccine may be more likely to cause fevers and will probably eventually require a third shot, too. The government is already shipping out millions of doses of the vaccines. So starting early next week, parents should be able to start getting appointments at their pediatricians, hospitals, pharmacies and clinics.

FLORIDO: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks, Rob.

STEIN: Sure thing, Adrian. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rhitu Chatterjee is a health correspondent with NPR, with a focus on mental health. In addition to writing about the latest developments in psychology and psychiatry, she reports on the prevalence of different mental illnesses and new developments in treatments.
Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.