A key advisory panel on Tuesday recommended the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 shots for emergency use in children ages 5 to 11, setting the stage for shots to become available to 28 million children by early November and fueling debate over the risks and rewards of vaccinating an age group that’s accounted for 0.01% of COVID-19 deaths in America.
Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted 17-0, with one abstention, in support of the vaccines after grilling Pfizer on its data and hearing an earful from skeptics who said green-lighting the vaccine would usher in school mandates and take away parental choice.
Panel members said mandates would be decided by others but wondered aloud how badly most children needed the shots.
In the end, they said they were confident the vaccines’ benefit against a range of health problems and societal disruptions from COVID-19 outweighed risks of serious side effects as the world tries to coexist with the virus.
“We’re going to have to find a way to live with it, and I think the vaccines kind of give us a way to do that,” said adviser Jeannette Lee, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Some parents and pediatric advocates told the panel they’re sick of worrying about their children’s exposure at schools, restaurants or planes and look forward to vaccinating them.
Vocal opponents the advisers to “hold the line” against extending Pfizer’s emergency use authorization (EUA) to an age group that’s accounted for only 94 of the 737,000 pandemic deaths in the U.S.
“Expanding the EUA to children is unnecessary, premature and will do more harm than good,” said Josh Guetzkow, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “There is no emergency for children, especially healthy ones whose risk of severe illness or death is almost nil.”