American children under age 5 could receive their first COVID-19 vaccines as early as June 21, the White House's top COVID official said Thursday — if the two vaccines under review are approved by both U.S. government bodies responsible for such authorizations.
"We know that many, many parents are eager to vaccinate their youngest kids," said White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. "And it's important to do this right. And that's what this process has been all about."
Starting Friday, he said, the federal government will make 10 million doses available for order by states, pharmacies, community health centers and federal entities. Once the Food and Drug Administration approves the vaccine, those doses can be shipped, and once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives its approval, children can start to get vaccinated. He predicted that if the process unfolds smoothly, children could begin receiving shots on June 21.
Currently, only children 5 or older are eligible for two-dose vaccines and for booster shots. If the vaccine is approved, the doses will be smaller than adult doses, Jha said, and the government has encouraged suppliers to make vaccinations available outside work and school hours, so parents can easily access them.
"We are prepared," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. "We're working with states, local health departments, pediatricians, family doctors, other health providers and pharmacies to get ready, as we did with kids that are between 5 and 11. So we want to make sure that we get this done swiftly but also safely and ... follow CDC recommendations."
Last month, during the Quad leaders summit in Tokyo, the U.S. committed to providing COVID-19 boosters and pediatric doses to countries in greatest need, including in the Indo-Pacific. But it's not clear whether the administration has firm plans to donate the vaccines for young children at this point.
"One of the things that the Quad partners are committed to is making sure that doses are safe and effective, and not trying to do anything to try and prejudge the approval process," a senior administration official told VOA.
Moderna asked for authorization for pediatric vaccines in late April; Pfizer asked last month. The most recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 18% of parents of under-5 children will get their children vaccinated quickly. But 38% say they will wait and observe how others take the vaccine. And another 38% say they will either "definitely not" pursue the vaccine or will do so only if required.
Johns Hopkins University, a leading tracker of the pandemic, notes that parental uptake of child vaccinations has been "stubbornly slow," with less than 30% of children receiving the vaccine.
"The consistent message throughout the pandemic has been that the virus is mild for children," said Rupali Limaye, deputy director of the International Vaccine Access Center.
The CDC emphasizes that the child-sized vaccine is safe and effective.
While severe cases among children are less prevalent than among adults, the CDC notes that since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has taken the lives of 479 American children under age 5.
Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.