A child is given a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
Mayela Lopez | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took an important step on Wednesday to ensure children who are uninsured can get Covid-19 vaccines for free after the federal government shifted its vaccination program to the commercial market.
The independent advisors to the CDC voted unanimously on Wednesday to include pediatric Covid vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the federal government’s pediatric vaccines program.
The Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines for children under the age of 19 whose families cannot afford them. Children are eligible for the program if they qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured, underinsured, or Native American.
The inclusion of Covid vaccinations in the program does not make them a routine child vaccination for school, said Dr. Jose Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
The federal government has made free Covid vaccines available to everyone in the US during the pandemic. However, the Biden administration is working on a plan to bring the vaccination program to the commercial market as early as 2023, which means people will have to pay for the shots.
dr Jeanne Santoli, a CDC official, said the public health agency will begin contracting out healthcare providers to give the Covid vaccines to uninsured children for free.
Currently, children as young as 6 months of age are eligible for the primary two-dose series of Pfizer and Moderna with the first-generation vaccines targeting the original Covid strain. Children aged 5+ are eligible for the new booster shots targeting the dominant subvariant omicron BA.5.
The decision to include Covid vaccinations in the free immunization program will prove crucial to maintaining access for many children. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, up to 5.3 million children are expected to lose their health coverage through Medicaid or the children’s health insurance program if the Biden administration decides to end the Covid public health emergency.
“This is an access issue. This is a problem to allow children without insurance access to this vaccine,” Romero said.
Although Covid-19 is generally less severe in children than adults, more than 162,000 children under the age of 18 have been hospitalized with Covid since August 2020, according to CDC data. According to the data, more than 1,800 children have died from Covid since the pandemic began.
Public health officials are also concerned that children are catching Covid for a long time, even after a mild infection.
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