President Joe Biden addressed the nation Wednesday as the first wave of 5- to 11-year-olds began to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
"For parents all over this country, this is a day of relief and celebration," Biden said from the White House. "28 million more young Americans are now eligible for the protection of a vaccine."
Biden said as soon as next week, the U.S. will have enough vaccines "for every single child" to at least receive their first shot. He said the vaccines will be available at approximately 20,000 locations across the country, including pharmacies and pediatrician’s offices. Biden said his administration is also working on bringing vaccines to schools.
"As of today, more than 6,000 school clinics have already been planned in school districts around the country," he added.
Biden said he plans on raising awareness among parents to get their children vaccinated, and encouraged them to talk with their pediatricians.
U.S. health officials on Tuesday gave the final signoff to Pfizer’s kid-size COVID-19 shot. The Food and Drug Administration already authorized the shots for emergency use in children ages 5 to 11 — doses just a third of the amount given to teens and adults. Then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally recommended that kids receive the FDA-cleared vaccines.
Pfizer over the weekend began shipping millions of the pediatric shots to states, doctors’ offices and pharmacies — in orange caps, to avoid mix-ups with purple-capped vials of adult vaccine.
"We’ve already sent millions of doses and millions more to come by next week," Biden continued.
Many parents have clamored for vaccine protection for youngsters so they can resume normal childhood activities without risking their own health — or fear bringing the virus home to a more vulnerable family member. But CDC’s advisers said they recognize many parents also have questions, and may be fearful of the vaccine because of rampant misinformation.
Members of the advisory panel said they want parents to ask about the shots — and understand that they’re far better than gambling that their child will escape a serious coronavirus infection. As for safety, more than 106 million Americans have safely gotten two doses of Pfizer’s full-strength shots — including more than 7 million 12- to 15-year-olds.
In the U.S., there have been more than 8,300 coronavirus-related hospitalizations of kids ages 5 to 11, about a third requiring intensive care, according to government data. The CDC has recorded at least 94 deaths in that age group, with additional reports under investigation.
"Children make up one-quarter of the cases in this country, and while rare, children can get very sick from COVID," Biden said. "This vaccine is safe and effective."
And while the U.S. has seen a recent downturn in COVID-19 cases, experts are worried about another uptick with holiday travel and as winter sends more activity indoors where it’s easier for the coronavirus to spread.
Pfizer’s study of 2,268 youngsters found the kid-size vaccine is nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 -- based on 16 diagnoses among kids given dummy shots compared to just three who got the real vaccination.
The FDA examined more children, a total of 3,100 who were vaccinated, in concluding the shots are safe. The younger children experienced similar or fewer reactions -- such as sore arms, fever or achiness -- than teens or young adults get after larger doses.
That study wasn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second full-strength dose, mostly in young men and teen boys. Regulators ultimately decided the benefits from vaccination outweigh the potential that younger kids getting a smaller dose also might experience that rare risk.
Pfizer is testing shots for babies and preschoolers and expects data around the end of the year. The similarly made Moderna vaccine also is being studied with young children. But the FDA still hasn’t cleared its use in teens, and the company is delaying its application for younger children pending that review.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.