When Could COVID Vaccines for Kids Under 5 Begin?

Late Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final OK for youngsters age 5 to 11 to get kid-size doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer

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With coronavirus vaccinations for kids as young 5 now underway across much of the Chicago area, many parents are looking ahead to even younger children.

So when could vaccinations for children under the age of 5 be authorized?

Chicago's top doctor said that while the focus remains on children ages 5 to 11 at the moment, she anticipates additional kids could become eligible as soon as early next year.

"There are studies that have already been going on for children all the way down to the age of 6 months," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a press conference Friday. "I would expect - don't hold me to it but - perhaps early next year, maybe in that first quarter we may have vaccines available for those 2-4-year-olds, for example, but we don't know that for sure. Always, safety comes first. And then the dosing for these young children, making sure that the right dose is in place. The safety is there. The focus right now is 5-11-year-olds, but I do anticipate, given that all the data looks good, that we will see it available for younger children, but probably not till 2022 most likely."

Coronavirus vaccinations for kids under 12 cleared the final phase of the authorization process on Tuesday and are already underway in many Chicago-area locations.

Late Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final OK for youngsters age 5 to 11 to get kid-size doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. Pediatricians and other doctors' groups praised the move and are gearing up to help families decide whether to vaccinate their children.

Because the children's doses are smaller and in different containers, the doses must be shipped to both the state and city.

Full-strength Pfizer shots already are recommended for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem infections from the extra-contagious delta variant and help keep kids in school.

While the vaccine for children ages 5-11 has "the exact same ingredients" and will follow the same timeframe between doses, "it is only going to be a third the dose," according to Arwady.

"This is because younger children have a smaller body mass and in studies, they had the same level of antibodies and protection," Arwady said. "But the lower dose makes it less likely that the 5-to-11-year-olds will have side effects."

Arwady noted that the change in dosage will also require smaller needles and different vaccine vials.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state has been preparing for the youth shots.

More than 2,200 locations and providers in the state - including family medicine practices, urgent care centers and public health clinics - have enrolled to provide doses to children, Pritzker said in a release.

Initially, the state will receive approximately 306,000 doses for kids 5 to 11, with an additional 73,000 doses for the city of Chicago and more than 100,000 headed to federal government pharmacy partners.

"As a parent, you should call your pediatrician now to make sure they’ve enrolled and have ordered doses," he said. "And I will do everything in my power to continue to follow the science and keep our kids safe.”

As the FDA plans to meet soon to discuss the next eligible age group, children ages 5-11, for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, doctors at Advocate Children’s Hospital have been talking with families and parents, listening to their questions and concerns. NBC 5's Lauren Petty reports.

While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.

Doctors at Advocate Children's Hospital said last week that while cases in children tend to be less severe than those seen in adults, "more children are being hospitalized with severe COVID-19 infection than was seen earlier in the pandemic."

The group also warned that multiple cases of a life-threatening COVID-19-related condition called the pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome have been reported in the Chicago area and experts still don't know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on kids.

"As the state's top health officials, and as a board certified pediatrician and mom, I am urging every single parent and guardian to do this for their child," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said last week. "Make a plan to get them vaccinated for COVID-19."

Both Moderna and J&J's vaccines can only be used on people 18 and older, though Moderna also is studying its shots in elementary school-aged children.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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