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Regulators and the nation’s largest physician organization took separate steps in recent days to prepare for expected authorization of use of COVID-19 vaccines in children younger than age 6.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday announced its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee will meet June 15 to discuss expanding the use of COVID vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
The panel will examine a request from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech for an emergency use authorization (EUA) of its vaccine to cover children ages 6 months through 4 years. The EUA expansion for the Moderna shot would cover children ages 6 months through 5 years, the FDA said.
Many parents and physicians have been urging regulators to clear COVID shots for young children, among whom rates of infection are high.
The American Medical Association (AMA) in February announced an update of its Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) to prepare for an eventual FDA clearance of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for children aged 6 months to younger than 5 years. Last week, the association announced a new CPT update to prepare for FDA clearance for use of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months through 5 years.
“Extending COVID-19 vaccination protection to approximately 18 million young children will significantly reduce their risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death, and give their parents incredible peace of mind,” Gerald Harmon, MD, AMA’s president, said in a statement last week. “We strongly urge all parents to get their infants and toddlers vaccinated as soon as they are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccines would be given to these young children in low doses.
On Monday, Pfizer announced results from a phase 2/3 trial evaluating a series of three shots of its vaccine in children ages 6 months to younger than 5 years.
Vaccine efficacy, which was a secondary endpoint in this study, was 80.3% in this age group, Pfizer said. The analysis was based on 10 symptomatic cases of COVID-19. The trial’s protocol specifies a formal analysis will be performed when at least 21 cases have accrued from 7 days after the third dose, Pfizer said. The company said it would share final data on the effectiveness of the vaccine once the results are available.
Moderna on April 28 issued a statement with details about testing of its vaccine in young children. Vaccine efficacy was estimated at about 51% for children aged 6 months to younger than 2 years of age and 37% for the children aged 2 years to younger than 6. Paul Burton, MD, Moderna’s chief medical officer, spoke about this rate during a May 1 appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation.
“What it means for parents, for caregivers, is that if they give the Moderna vaccine to these little kids, they would basically cut in half the risk of that child getting symptomatic COVID,” Burton said in the interview. “Now, the number, 50%, I know is often lower than we are used to seeing with our vaccine, but it’s because this study was conducted during a time of Omicron.”
The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee also will meet on June 14 discuss potential use under an EUA of Moderna’s COVID vaccine for children and teenagers aged 6-17 years. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine already is authorized under an EUA for people aged 5 years and older.
The FDA has to date granted both conditional clearances, or EUAs, and regular approvals for COVID vaccines.
EUAs are meant to be temporary, allowing for rapid introduction of medicines in response to public health crises such as the pandemic. The FDA also uses EUAs to provide initial clearances of additional indications for products, as would be the case with the authorizations Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are seeking for their COVID vaccines.
Companies that want to continue to sell EUA-cleared products or promote EUA-cleared indications beyond the time of the public health crisis must seek regular approvals.
The FDA cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID vaccines under EUAs in December 2020. The agency then granted a regular approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people ages 16 and older in August 2021 based on more robust data. Regular approval for the Moderna vaccine for people ages 18 and older followed in January 2022.
Varied Reactions Among Parents
Attitudes in the United States about pediatric COVID vaccines are far from uniform.
The initial uptake has disappointed physicians and researchers, who have been urging wider use of the COVID vaccination among children and teens for whom the FDA already has granted a clearance. Many parents are hesitating to bring their children for the COVID vaccines, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 35.4% of children ages 5-11 had received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, CDC staff said during a meeting last week.
Yet many other parents are demanding this medicine for their young children, urging the FDA to move quickly to clear COVID shots.
A private Facebook group called “Protect Their Future: A Call to Action for COVID Vaccines in Kids <5” boasts about 6200 members. Many parents and physicians have used Twitter in recent months to press for a speedy review of COVID vaccines for the youngest children, often using the hashtag #immunizeunder5s. A group called Protect Their Future, which uses @ImmunizeUnder5s as its Twitter handle, had 5288 followers as of Monday afternoon.
A special panel of the House of Representatives, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, on Monday joined those tweeting about the need to soon authorize COVID vaccines for very young children.
“Parents have been waiting many months for vaccines for their young children,” the subcommittee tweeted. “They deserve to hear from @US_FDA why this lengthy process has been in children’s best interests.”