The CDC’s advisory panel on vaccines has now recommended the Pfizer COVID vaccine for everyone age 12 and up, in a 14-0 vote. This follows an FDA decision on Monday to extend the vaccine’s authorization to this age group. The vaccine appears to be as safe and effective in this age group as in young adults, according to recent studies. The American Academy of Pediatrics also announced today that they recommend vaccinating kids in this age group.
The difference between the two decisions is that the FDA authorization allowed these teens to get the vaccine, but the recommendation from the CDC’s panel, ACIP, means that insurance companies must cover the cost. ACIP also traditionally influences other actions and recommendations, such as the standard vaccine schedules for children and adults. Many COVID vaccine clinics and pediatricians’ offices will be able to start offering the vaccine immediately, so contact your child’s doctor or your local vaccine clinic to learn about availability.
The CDC also now recommends that COVID vaccines can be given at the same time as other vaccines, enabling adolescents and adults to get their COVID shot alongside any other vaccines they may need, such as the HPV and meningitis vaccines that are recommended for teenagers. Previously, the CDC had recommended not giving a COVID vaccine within 14 days before or after any other vaccine. That rule was not based on any known danger, but was “out of an abundance of caution.” But after seeing so many people receive the vaccine safely (116 million adults and 1.3 million 16- and 17-year-olds are now fully vaccinated) the CDC removed the waiting period from their clinical considerations.
What did the studies say?
The extended authorization is based on a study of over 2,000 12-to-15-year-olds, where half got the vaccine and half got the placebo. There were 16 cases of COVID-19 in the placebo group and none in the vaccine group, for an efficacy of 100%. (Real world effectiveness may be lower, but this is still an excellent result.)
There was also an analysis that compared 190 people between ages 12 to 15 who got the vaccine with 170 people between ages 16 and 25. The younger people showed the same immune response as their slightly older peers.
While children are less at risk from death and severe complications of COVID, they are more at risk for a serious inflammatory syndrome called MIS-C that can be triggered by a COVID infection. They may also be susceptible to long COVID, and they are able to transmit the virus to other family members. Vaccinating children will help to protect them as well as the adults that they come in contact with. It will also make schools and activities safer; once most children are vaccinated and cases are low, mask requirements and distancing may not be necessary in schools anymore.
Is the kids’ vaccine any different from the adult version?
Nope, it’s the same vaccine at the same dose, given on the same schedule (two doses, three weeks apart). This means that a vaccine clinic doesn’t have to do anything significantly different for 12-year-olds than it would for 16-year-olds or, for that matter, 65-year-olds, so the rollout is likely to be simple.
In a press conference, FDA officials noted that state licensing boards sometimes regulate minimum ages that a given professional can work with, so just because the vaccine is authorized for a certain age group doesn’t mean that every provider can administer it. Check with your local vaccine clinic to see if they have a minimum age. But if an adult provider isn’t able to give the vaccine to your kid in your state, a pediatric provider can.
When will the vaccine be available for younger kids?
Studies are still ongoing for younger kids. The immunobridging approach, which compared the immune response of children to that of adults, is considered to be appropriate for 12-to-15-year-olds, but safety studies in younger children will need to be more involved. The most appropriate dose and schedule for young children may also end up being different from that for adults.
Pfizer is the company that is furthest ahead in its trials in children, and they recently said they expect to apply for authorization for younger children in September, and potentially for infants in November.
This post was originally published on May 11 and was updated on May 12, 2021 to include the CDC panel’s vote to recommend the vaccine, as well as the announcement that there is no longer a waiting period between COVID vaccines and other vaccines.