The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cheered parents across the U.S. late Tuesday, when it granted access to the COVID-19 vaccine program to children aged 5 to 11, making about 28 million kids eligible for the vaccine developed by Pfizer PFE, -0.99% and German partner BioNTech BNTX, +0.72%.
The announcement from CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky came just hours after an advisory panel unanimously decided Pfizer’s shots should be opened to that age group, the Associated Press reported. The decision marks the first opportunity for Americans under 12 to get the powerful protection of any COVID-19 vaccine.
“As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated,” Walensky said Tuesday night, in a statement.
In remarks earlier in the day, she said while the risk of severe disease and death is lower in young children than adults, it is real — and that COVID-19 has had a profound social, mental health and educational impact on youngsters, including widening disparities in learning.
“There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year,” Walensky said. “Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that.”
President Joe Biden called the decision “a turning point.”
“It will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others,” he said in a statement. “It is a major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus.”
There have been more than 8,300 coronavirus-related hospitalizations of kids ages 5 to 11 in the U.S. with about a third requiring intensive care, according to government data. The CDC has recorded at least 94 deaths in that age group, with additional reports under investigation.
And while the U.S. has seen a recent downturn in COVID-19 cases, experts are worried about another uptick with holiday travel and as winter sends more activity indoors where it’s easier for the coronavirus to spread.
The U.S. is still averaging about 1,300 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, although cases and hospitalizations are steadily declining. But most fatalities and new cases are in unvaccinated people and Alaska and Colorado remain hot spots.
Colorado, where cases are growing at the fastest rate in the nation, has reached a point where hospitals are allowed to redirect incoming patients, the Times reported. Some medical centers are at more than 90% capacity and many are suffering from staff shortages.
In Larimer Country, where vaccine hesitancy has created a surge of cases, hospitals are using 110% of their ICU beds, forcing some patients to share rooms, said the Times report.
Elsewhere, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Tuesday he won’t comply with a mandate requiring deputies be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face termination, claiming thousands could leave the department and that will lead to more crime, the AP reported.
His defiance to the order that was approved last summer by the LA County Board of Supervisors brought a rebuke from Janice Hahn, one of the panel’s five members who unanimously backed the policy.
“He is putting both his deputies and the public they come face-to-face with every day at unnecessary risk,” she said in a statement. “What we need from the sheriff right now is leadership, for once.”
Vaccine mandates are rolling out nationwide for government employees and many cities are clashing with first responder unions over the requirements. About 9,000 New York City municipal workers — including 34 officers — were put on unpaid leave for refusing to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that took effect Monday.
Russia set yet another one-day record death toll of 1,189, Radio Free Europe reported, amid a surge in cases blamed by the authorities on a low vaccination rate that has forced the imposition of a nationwide workplace shutdown.
It was the third record number of fatalities in four days. Authorities also reported 40,443 new cases in the last 24 hours.
In Peru, interior minister Luis Barranzuela has resigned after reports that he held a Halloween party at his home and violated COVID rules, AFP reported. The South American country has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has caused more than 200,000 deaths, the world’s highest per capital rate, according to AFP data.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Wednesday some regions in the country are running out of ICU beds as the country suffers a “massive” pandemic of the unvaccinated, AFP reported separately.
Germany, Europe’s most populous country with some 83 million people, has been grappling with a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases in recent weeks that has seen the seven-day incidence rate hit highs not seen since May.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 247.7 million on Wednesday, while the death toll edged above 5 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 46.2 million cases and 748,814 deaths.
India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.3 million and has suffered 459,191 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 608,071 and 21.8 million cases.
In Europe, Russia has the most fatalities at 237,619 deaths, followed by the U.K. at 141,390.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 109,859 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively understated.