A child receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
Mayela Lopez | Reuters
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took an important step Wednesday to ensure uninsured children can receive free Covid-19 vaccines after the federal government moved its vaccine program to the commercial market.
The CDC’s independent advisers voted unanimously on Wednesday to include Covid injections authorized for children by the Food and Drug Administration in the federal government’s childhood vaccine program.
The Vaccines for Children program provides vaccines to children under 19 whose families cannot afford them. Children are eligible for the program if they qualify for Medicaid or are uninsured, underinsured, or Native American.
Including Covid shots in the curriculum does not make it a routine childhood vaccination for school, said Dr. Jose Romero, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
The US government provided free Covid vaccines to everyone in the US during the pandemic. But the Biden administration is working on a plan to transition the vaccine program to the commercial market as soon as 2023, which means people will have to start paying for vaccines.
Dr. Jeanne Santoli, a CDC official, said the public health agency would begin awarding contracts to health care providers to administer Covid vaccines to uninsured children free of charge.
Currently, children as young as six months are eligible for Pfizer and Moderna’s two-dose primary series with the first-generation injections that target the original Covid strain. Children as young as 5 years old are eligible for the new booster shots that target the dominant omicron BA.5 subvariant.
The decision to include Covid vaccines in the free vaccination program will prove crucial in maintaining access for many children. Up to 5.3 million children are expected to lose their health insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program each time the Biden administration decides to end the health insurance program, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. public health emergency of covid.
“It’s a problem of access. It’s a problem of allowing children who don’t have insurance to have access to this vaccine,” Romero said.
Although Covid is generally less severe in children than in adults, more than 162,000 children under the age of 18 have been hospitalized with Covid since August 2020, according to CDC data. More than 1,800 children have died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, the data shows.
Public health officials are also concerned that children develop long Covid even after a mild infection.