DALLAS - Infants and toddlers are expected to be able to start getting the COVID-19 vaccine starting next week.
The FDA gave the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for children under the age of 5 "emergency use authorization" Friday, and the CDC is expected to give the final okay this weekend.
Pediatric experts are happy about this green light from the FDA, allowing families to finally be able to protect everyone in the family, except for young babies.
"This is wonderful news in our fight against the pandemic," said Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children's Health.
Dr. Kahn, who is also a professor of pediatrics for UT Southwestern, said he's seen the need for the vaccine for infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers firsthand.
Within a couple of months, omicron brought a wave of young patients into Children’s.
"During the omicron, we had a lot of infants and toddlers who were being hospitalized, and that was very, very difficult," he recalled. "At that point, up until now, we didn’t have a vaccine to protect these children. It was very, very difficult to speak with their parents. Some of these kids were in the ICU, some had to be on a ventilator. It was certainly very trying times."
A CDC briefing on the vaccines Friday showed startling numbers about the severity of COVID-19 among babies and children 6 months to 4 years old.
The age group was more likely than older children to need intensive care and ventilators.
"Over half of children hospitalized had no underlying health conditions," Kahn said.
A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found only 18% of parents are anxious to get their young children vaccinated, while 38% want to wait and see.
Dr. Kahn knows there will be vaccine hesitancy, but said there is very strong data to support the safety of the vaccine.
"The studies that led up to FDA approval show they have a very good safety profile," he said. "I'm not worried at all about safety."
Pfizer and Moderna told the CDC Advisory Committee Friday that there were no instances of the heart condition that the vaccine was associated with in male adolescents.
Dr. Kahn said it is also important to note that myocarditis was extremely rare and "most of the cases were mild," with "no medical therapy needed."
"Your risk of getting myocarditis from COVID is a lot greater than the risk of getting it from the vaccine," he explained.
While cases are down right now, Dr. Kahn said that can change quickly, and since the vaccine process takes time for doses and immunity, he said it is important for parents to take action.
"We know that this is a pretty agile foe, this virus, and it’s mutated," Dr. Kahn said. "And we’ve had all these variants come along, and we’re more than two years into this pandemic and we’re still dealing with it. It’s very, very difficult to say where we’re going to go with this, but the more people who are immunized in the population, the less susceptible people there are out for the virus to infect and for the virus to spread. As a public health measure, this is the way to do it. This is the way to really dampen down, decrease, and stymie the circulation of the virus."
Final approval by the CDC is expected to be given this weekend.
Dallas County is planning to receive shipments of the vaccine, and expects to roll out plans for distribution early next week.