More than 2 million children have already received their first dose of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine, just two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized distribution of the shots for kids ages 5 to 11.
“We estimate by the end of the day today 2.6 million kids ages 5 to 11 will have gotten their first shot; 2.6 million — that’s about 10% of kids,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.
The vaccination campaign for children is a crucial step in the much-desired return to “normal” for families, giving parents the peace of mind to allow their children to participate in extracurricular activities and in-person learning without fear of the virus.
The White House has rapidly rolled out its immunization campaign for kids after the CDC authorized distribution of the shots at the beginning of the month. The CDC’s OK came just a few days after the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine for younger kids.
The Pfizer vaccine is given to children in a smaller dose, one-third the dose for teens and adults, and is administered with smaller needles. The vaccine for kids is also distributed in different packaging to ensure it isn’t mixed up with adult doses.
Pfizer said its smaller dose for kids is more than 90% effective at preventing symptomatic infection and that the shots were well tolerated, with side effects similar to those experienced by people ages 16 to 25.
Though children are less likely to fall seriously ill with Covid, they can develop mild to moderate symptoms. In addition, more than 2,000 kids ages 5 to 11 have suffered from an inflammatory syndrome, known as MIS-C, a rare but serious side effect of Covid.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Wednesday that public health authorities are monitoring breakthrough cases of Covid in the 5-to-11 age group but that they need more time to gather the data as kids get their first and second doses.
Walensky said the CDC expects the shots to provide protection similar to that experienced by adolescents ages 12 and older, reducing the risk of hospitalization and death more than tenfold.
As more and more children receive their first shots, vaccination rates are also increasing among the broader population, according to Zients. Eighty percent of Americans ages 12 and older have received at least one shot of a vaccine, and half of eligible seniors have gotten their booster shots.
However, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said 62 million Americans eligible for the shots remain unvaccinated.
“It is not too late. Get vaccinated now. And importantly, if you are already vaccinated six months or more ago and eligible for a boost, get a boost,” Fauci said.
“The Israelis have shown that when you boost, you multifold diminish the likelihood of getting infected, getting sick or dying,” he said.
An Israeli study published in the Lancet in October showed that booster doses were more than 90% effective at preventing severe illness from Covid. Israel started rolling out boosters over the summer, and more than 4 million Israelis have received their third shots — nearly half the population, according to The Times of Israel.
The FDA has granted emergency authorization for elderly and high-risk Americans to receive booster shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. People ages 18 and older who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are also eligible for boosters.
The FDA could grant authorization for all adults to receive Pfizer boosters as soon as Thursday, according to The New York Times.