New pediatric COVID-19 vaccines are being shipped to health care providers and should be more widely available soon, health officials said Thursday.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Mandy K. Cohen, M.D., M.P.H., addressed delays in availability during a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) news conference. She said updated vaccines for adults started shipping first, but supplies of pediatric vaccines are increasing, especially at Vaccines for Children sites. The vaccines have been updated to better match circulating strains.
Dr. Cohen and other experts gathered to urge all eligible children and adults to get vaccinated against COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), the combination of which overwhelmed hospitals last winter. Some parts of the Southeastern U.S. already are seeing an increase in RSV.
“Unfortunately, these viruses are still here with us and are still causing real problems but … for first time in history, we have vaccines against all three of these major viruses that can protect us from serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Dr. Cohen said.
As many as 80,000 children under 5 years of age were hospitalized for RSV last season and about 300 died, according to Dr. Cohen. The CDC recently approved a monoclonal antibody, nirsevimab, to protect infants and high-risk toddlers and a maternal vaccine that can be given to pregnant people at 32-36 weeks’ gestation to protect their newborns. An RSV vaccine also is available for older adults.
The CDC also estimates influenza caused about 31 million illnesses, 360,000 hospitalizations and 21,000 deaths last season. There were 176 deaths reported in children, the third highest on record, and 80% of those children were not fully vaccinated. About 57% of children and adolescents got flu vaccines last season compared to 64% in the 2019-’20 season, according to the CDC.
Health officials also focused attention on vaccination of pregnant people who are at higher risk of severe illness, which can lead to pregnancy complications. Vaccination can protect pregnant people and their infants in the first months of life. However, just 47% got a flu vaccine last season, down from 58% in the 2019-’20 season. Just 27% got a bivalent COVID booster before or during pregnancy.
The CDC published several new reports Thursday about vaccination during pregnancy in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. One of the reports found maternal vaccination during pregnancy reduced the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization by about one-third in infants younger than 6 months and by one-half in infants younger than 3 months compared to babies born to unvaccinated women.
“If you get a vaccine and you’re a pregnant woman, you potentially can save two lives,” NFID Medical Director Robert H. Hopkins Jr., M.D., said at the press conference.
A new NFID survey found 75% of adults trust their health care provider for information on flu vaccines. Officials encouraged providers to make a strong recommendation for vaccination.
“We all know that a firm recommendation from a health care practitioner has a powerful impact on persuading people to get vaccinated, so I would urge all of my fellow practitioners to make those recommendations as we go into this vaccination season,” said NFID spokesperson William Schaffner, M.D.
To help keep providers up-to-date on vaccine recommendations, the CDC updated its immunization schedules Thursday, ahead of the usual February publication. For children and adolescents, this means adding recent immunization recommendations for COVID, respiratory syncytial virus, flu, poliovirus and pneumococcal disease. Updating the schedules now also is expected to help speed up insurance payment and was supported by the AAP and other medical organizations.
- CDC interim clinical considerations for COVID-19 vaccines
- Information from the AAP on COVID-19 vaccine products, dosing, payment and policy
- Information from the CDC on RSV for health care providers
- AAP RSV resources including nirsevimab ordering, dosing, payment and when to use palivizumab
- AAP policy Recommendations for Prevention and Control of Influenza in Children, 2023-2024
- Information on flu from the CDC