As we know, the pandemic moves slow. And so it has gone for young children and their parents amid a nearly year-long Covid-vaccine rollout. But yesterday, an independent panel of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended emergency use authorization (EUA) of Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid vaccine for children ages 5-11. The panel included medical professionals from agencies and institutions including the National Institutes of Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Harvard Medical School. The final vote was 17-0 in favor, citing benefits that outweighed any risks. (One panel member abstained from the vote.)
So, if you have been hopeful for this moment, what does it mean, exactly? Well, think about it as comparable to how legislation moves through Congress. A bill that originates in the House of Representatives gets put up for a vote. If it passes, it then moves on to the Senate for its approval, before being signed into law by the President.
In this instance, think of the FDA as the House. Now that the FDA’s advisors gave their thumbs-up — the equivalent of putting it up for an official vote — the FDA itself has to second their consensus and officially issue an EUA for the vaccine. (Expectations are this could happen before the weekend.) Once the EUA is issued, a vaccine-advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), functioning as a kind of Senate body, weighs the EUA’s merits. This is scheduled to take place on November 2. Assuming they concur with the FDA’s determination, the committe then advises CDC Director Rochelle Walensky — whose role here is a la the President for our purposes — who would ultimately choose to formally recommend (or not) the vaccine for children ages 5-11.
Assuming Walensky gives her go-ahead, at that precise moment (which could reasonably arrive as soon as early next week), the actual Commander-in-Chief, President Biden, will execute his plan for distributing the Pfizer children’s vaccine to tens of thousands of pharmacies, pediatric offices, hospitals and health and community centers around the country.
The upshot? Most kids in that cohort will be able to get their first dose — if their parents so choose — potentially by late next week. (The children’s dose of the Pfizer vaccine will be a third the amount of an adult dose, and delivered via a smaller needle. The second dose will be administered three weeks later.)
To date, Covid-19 has led to the deaths of more than 736,000 Americans, including nearly 700 children.