A girl holds her sister's hand to comfort her as a nurse prepares to administer a pediatric dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a L.A. Care Health Plan vaccination clinic at Los Angeles Mission College in the Sylmar neighborhood in Los Angeles, on Jan. 19. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Infants and toddlers in the U.S. are now able to be vaccinated against COVID-19 after shots from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. won support from health advisers on Saturday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 12-0 to recommend Pfizer’s three-dose vaccine for youngsters ages 6 months through 4 years. They also voted 12-0 to recommend Moderna’s two-dose vaccine for children 6 months through 5 years. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed off on the recommendations making the advice official and allowing the shots to finally go into arms.

In a statement Walensky said the approvals marked an important step in the country’s fight against COVID.

“We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” she said.

Children under 5 are the last remaining age group that hasn’t been able to get vaccinated. Shots will be available at thousands of pediatric practices, pharmacies and other locations this week, the agency said.

The CDC endorsement is welcome news to many parents and caregivers who have been eager to give their youngsters some form of protection since vaccines first became available more than a year and a half ago.

However, the rate of vaccination for older children suggests that uptake is likely to be limited for toddlers. Only 29% of American kids ages 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, suggesting that some parents are hesitant or less motivated to inoculate their children.

During the meeting, CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer Sara Oliver said the agency is trying to tackle this issue by making sure that information on the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines is available for parents. For example, the agency will host clinician education calls and parent webinars as well as publish educational materials on social media.

“Making sure that parents feel that they have the appropriate information to make an informed decision about this is critically important,” Oliver said.

Children are less likely than adults to experience the worst outcomes of COVID, and those under age 5 account for about 440 of more than 1 million related U.S. deaths. Still, health officials warn, the rate of hospitalization and death for children, particularly during the omicron wave, has been concerning.

Data presented during Saturday’s meeting showed that since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been over 2 million COVID-19 cases, 20,000 hospitalizations and 200 deaths among U.S. children ages 6 months to 4 years.

“We really want to get these children vaccinated, because we know vaccinations prevent infection, but to a greater extent prevent severe disease,” Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s medical adviser, said Thursday in a Senate hearing.

Moderna’s two-dose vaccine was 51% effective at preventing cases of COVID for those under 2 years and 37% effective for those ages 2 to 5, the FDA said. Common side effects of Moderna’s shot include pain, injection site swelling and fever, the agency said. For Pfizer’s, the most common side effects included irritability, decreased appetite and fever.

Parents and doctors may prefer Moderna’s because of its higher efficacy after two doses, Cowen analyst Tyler Van Buren said in a note. Moderna’s vaccine contains a higher dose of mRNA than Pfizer’s.

The U.S. government has already secured a supply of 10 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna to vaccinate under-5s. The vaccines for the youngest of kids are expected to be rolled out as early as June 21, the Biden administration said earlier this month.

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