(Bloomberg) -- The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE Covid-19 vaccine is set to become the first shot used to protect 12-to-15-year-olds in the U.S. if advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree in a meeting Wednesday that it’s safe and effective for that age group.
Company and CDC representatives will present scientific evidence to the panel, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, before its 15 voting members take a vote. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky must then sign off on the panel’s recommendation.
The vaccine could be deployed to teens as soon as Thursday in a move that’s been long anticipated as paving the way for the mass vaccination of middle and high-school students before the next school year begins.
“Socializing is a critically important part of a child’s development,” said William Gruber, a trained pediatrician who is Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development. “Just as the vaccinate has proven liberating to adults, I fully expect the CDC to liberate adolescents.”
On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot in adolescents. The vaccine has been available in the U.S. for those 16 and older since mid-December. Others made by Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson are only currently available to those 18 and older.
Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a Monday briefing that pharmacies and other distribution centers can now “extend down to the younger age group” since the clearance is for the same dose and formulation being administered to those 16 and up. Pediatricians, though, will need to make arrangements to be able to deploy the shot given its ultra-cold storage requirements, she said.
New York-based Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech said in March that their two-shot vaccine was 100% effective in the 12-to-15 age group in a final-stage trial. The shot produced antibodies exceeding the level seen in vaccinated young adults, and didn’t result in any new or worrisome side effects.
Nearly 60% of Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. But the nationwide campaign to get everyone to take the shot has begun to slow. Last week, the Biden administration said the U.S. is now giving an average of 2.13 million shots a day, down from 3.37 million about three weeks ago.
Now, the next leg of the campaign is poised to begin. There are almost 17 million adolescents ages 12 to 15 in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, or 5.3% of the U.S. population.
Read More: Pfizer-BioNTech Covid Shot Gains U.S. Clearance for Young Teens
“There’s a misperception that kids aren’t impacted at all by Covid,” said Lee Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in an interview. “Thankfully, death in children has been a rare event, but we’re seeking kids who have long-haul symptoms, and some with cardiac symptoms after being infected.”
Pediatric researchers are investigating whether Covid is becoming more severe for children now that variants are causing localized flare-ups. The rate of cases in young kids and early teens began surpassing that of those 65 and older in early April, and hospitalizations among children aren’t falling as quickly as for those 18 and older.
The CDC is also investigating a rare but serious condition associated with Covid called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C. More than 3,000 cases had been identified by April 1, and the agency will soon update its tally.
“Pediatricians are in an ideal position to be talking to parents about the vaccine,” Beers said, noting she expects pediatricians and family doctors to soon take on a bigger roll in the distribution process. “Vaccine delivery is a really important part of what we do. We have lots of experience answering parents questions.”
Since 12-to-15 year olds will be given the same vaccine as adults, the regimen will be priced the same. In the U.S., the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine costs $39 for a full course. Currently, the shots are paid for by the U.S. government, with no out-of-pocket cost for vaccine recipients.
Meanwhile, Moderna has said that initial results from its trial of its Covid vaccine in adolescents ages 12-to-17 showed that it was 96% effective, with no serious safety problems identified so far. The company is still collecting data and is in discussions with regulators about amending its emergency use authorization to include teenagers.
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