The United States regulators on Monday expanded the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12, calling it a ‘watershed moment’ to protect the nation’s teenage population before they head back to school in the fall.
Shots could begin as soon as Thursday after a federal vaccine advisory committee issued recommendations for using the two-dose coronavirus vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds.
Canada was the first country to expand its use to 12 and up.
“This is a watershed moment in our ability to fight back the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president who’s also a pediatrician, told The Associated Press. Parents, school administrators, and public health officials elsewhere have eagerly awaited approval for the shot to be made available to more kids.
President Joe Biden said Monday’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life. “The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said in a statement.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also declared that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens, based on testing of more than 2,000 US volunteers ages 12 to 15.
Younger teens who received the Pfizer vaccine dosage had the same minor side effects as adults, like sore arms and flu-like fever, chills, or aches that signal a revved-up immune system, especially after the second dose.
Pfizer, which is developing the vaccine with German partner BioNTech, has also requested similar authorization in the European Union, with other countries to follow.
However, Pfizer is not the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects. Another US company, Novavax, has a COVID-19 vaccine in late-stage development and just began a study in 12- to 17-year-olds.
Outside of the US, AstraZeneca is studying its vaccine among 6- to 17-year-olds in Britain. And in China, Sinovac recently announced that it has submitted preliminary data to Chinese regulators showing its vaccine is safe in children as young as 3.