COVID-19 vaccines will be available for children under 5 for the first time following their approval on Saturday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimously recommended approval of vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for use among younger children.

The panel’s recommendation was then quickly accepted by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

The expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccination means that nearly 20 million additional children, including all Americans ages 6 months and older, are now qualified to be immunized against the disease.

“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against COVID-19,” Walensky said in an issued statement. “We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can.”

She encouraged parents and caregivers with questions “to talk to their doctor, nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about the benefits of vaccinations and the importance of protecting their children by getting them vaccinated.”   

The agency said distribution of pediatric vaccinations for the youngest children has already started across the country and doses will be available “this week” at pediatric practices, pharmacies, qualified health centers, local health departments, clinics and other locations.

The decision came one day after Food and Drug Administration moved to expand the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to include children as young as 6 months.

Immediately after Saturday’s approval, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its COVID-19 recommendations to include a “strong recommendation” for children in this age group to receive the vaccine.

“We must not let up in our efforts to make sure all families can benefit from the protection of these vaccines,” AAP President Moira Szilagyi said in a statement. “Pediatricians are ready to have these conversations, and parents and caregivers should feel comfortable bringing their questions to their trusted pediatrician to have their questions addressed.”

During the panel hearing, pediatrician Dr. Yvonne Maldonado said children 5 and under have “waited the longest for this protection.”

“Pediatricians know the power of vaccines to protect infants, children, adolescents and entire communities against deadly and debilitating infectious diseases,” she said. “We’ve successfully immunized millions of children and adolescents to protect them from COVID-19. Families with infants and toddlers need and deserve the same chance to protect their children against this virus.”

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