White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha is optimistic...

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha is optimistic about an imminent vaccine decision for children under age 5. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

Federal regulators could make a decision on whether to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 5 “in the next few weeks,” White House COVID response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said Sunday.

Health experts have said vaccinating this age group is especially important because more young children ended up in the hospital during the first omicron wave of infections this winter than during the previous delta wave of the virus.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that while the numbers of hospitalized children were small, five times as many of those aged 4 and under were hospitalized during the peak of omicron compared with delta. 

Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of Northwell Health’s COVID-19 vaccination program and a pediatric emergency medical physician, said children under the age of 5 represented the majority of new infections among kids visiting the emergency department at Cohen Children’s Medical Center during the omicron wave.

He noted most of them were not admitted for primary COVID-19 illness but rather related symptoms such as shortness of breath and dehydration.

“We know that immunity from natural infection wanes relatively quickly,” Harris said. “This group really still is at risk of getting sick again.”

At the end of April, Moderna submitted a request for emergency use authorization for its two-dose COVID-19 primary vaccine series for children under 6 years of age to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer-BioNTech, which currently has the only authorized COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 17, had previously delayed seeking emergency use authorization from the FDA for its vaccine designed for children under the age of 5. The pharmaceutical firm, which is continuing research, has said it believes a third dose plan is needed rather than two doses to protect this youngest age group.

Harris said while there has been debate over how effective both vaccines have been in clinical trials in terms of preventing infections, “there were no cases of ICU admissions and very few hospitalizations."

Even if the vaccine does receive authorization, some parents may be reluctant to get their kids vaccinated, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The survey showed about 18% of parents of kids under 5 were “eager” to get their kids vaccinated right away and about 38% said they would take a “wait and see” approach. In addition, 27% said they would “definitely not” get their children in that youngest age group vaccinated.

Jha, in an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” said the Food and Drug Administration is currently evaluating the Moderna application and that the analysis will be done "probably within the next few weeks," with a decision on the vaccine shortly thereafter.

Last week, the FDA and CDC approved expanding booster shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 infection rates continue to be high in New York and other places around the U.S. The state recorded 119,533 COVID-19 test results on Saturday with 8,200 being positive.

On Long Island, there were 15,144 test results and 1,511 were positive. The seven-day rolling average of positive test results on Long Island was 10.6%, higher than the state average of 8.1%.

Harris said it is too soon to tell whether this latest wave — fueled by the highly contagious omicron subvariants, BA.1, BA.2.12 and BA. 2.12.1 — has crested.

“I think new infections have started to slow but we’ve been fooled before,” he said. “I’m hoping this will plateau and then begin to go down.”

Jha urged people in high-transmission areas such as Long Island to wear masks indoors and to get boosted.

“I feel that very strongly that in crowded indoor spaces in places with high transmission, people should be doing that,” he said.

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