CDC Recommends Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine for Children Ages 5 to 11

About 28 million kids are immediately eligible for the safe and effective lower-dose vaccine

Gloved doctors hands and a child's right arm with an orange bandaid
Results from clinical trials show Pfizer’s vaccine was around 91 percent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 infections in kids ages 5 to 11. Fabio Formaggio / EyeEm via Getty Images

On Tuesday evening, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for children aged 5 through 11. At a meeting earlier in the day, a panel of scientific advisers to the CDC had unanimously recommended that Pfizer’s lower-dose vaccine be given to elementary school–age children. The move, which clears the way for immediate vaccination, comes as a relief to parents and doctors eager to protect young kids against a possible spike in Covid-19 cases this fall and winter.

“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes Covid-19,” Walensky said in a statement Tuesday night. "We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a Covid-19 vaccine.”

Before their decision, members of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices spent an unusually long time speaking in support of the vaccine before they voted, according to CNN's Maggie Fox. The vaccines will be delivered in two injections that contain one-third of the adult dose, given three weeks apart. The lower-dose regimen prompts a strong immune response in kids while minimizing side effects. Results from clinical trials show Pfizer’s vaccine was around 91 percent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 infections in kids ages 5 to 11.

Walensky's endorsement arrives as American families brace for a potentially risky holiday season as children head back to school and spend more time indoors. While Covid-19 cases in kids are still rare compared to adults, serious pediatric cases have increased with the spread of the Delta variant. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 8,300 children aged 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with Covid-19 and at least 170 kids in that age group have died.

“Vaccination of children ages 5 to 11 years will not only help prevent Covid-19 infection and serious consequences of infection in this age group, but will also help children emotionally and socially,” said CDC panel member Pamela Rockwell, who represents the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Covid-19 outbreaks have forced around 2,300 schools to close this fall, affecting more than 1.2 million students, according to data presented at the committee meeting. Immunizing kids in this age group is expected to prevent about 600,000 new cases from November of this year to next March. Shipments of the vaccine started last Friday following the Food and Drug Administration's decision to authorize the vaccine for young kids, according to reporters for NPR.

Committee experts also considered the potential side effects associated with the vaccine, including a rare heart condition called myocarditis, which has been tied to the mRNA-based Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, particularly in younger men. Though some trial participants had mild side effects, like headaches, fatigue, or pain at the injection site, there were no cases of myocarditis in Pfizer’s clinical trials, reports Apoorva Mandavilli for the New York Times. Even given the overwhelming safety of the vaccine, health officials acknowledge that many parents have legitimate questions and concerns, and encourage talking with a trusted pediatrician or other medical professionals. 

"As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” Walensky said.