CDC recommends adding COVID vaccines to routine childhood immunizations — here's what that means

Pediatrician and young patient wear protective face masks while pediatrician prepares to give vaccine to the child.
The CDC recommends updating the childhood immunization schedule to include COVID-19 vaccines. (Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) unanimously voted to add COVID-19 vaccines to the list of childhood and adult immunizations in 2023. But some are confused about what exactly that means.

Before the vote even took place on Oct. 20, there was an uproar on social media, with some, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, inaccurately claiming the decision would “make the vax mandatory for kids to attend school.”

The misinformation led to the CDC responding on social media before the committee voted on the measure, explaining: “States establish vaccine requirements for school children, not ACIP or CDC.”

Under state vaccination requirements, the CDC notes that “state laws establish vaccination requirements for school children,” explaining that these laws often apply to children attending public schools as well as those at private schools and day care facilities. “All states provide medical exemptions, and some state laws also offer exemptions for religious and/or philosophical reasons,” according to the CDC.

Andrew Pekosz, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Yahoo Life that the CDC recommendation isn’t a “mandate.” “Currently, there is only a recommendation from the CDC vaccine advisory board, not an official policy statement,” he says. “This recommendation is not to mandate COVID vaccinations, but to recommend them as part of the childhood immunization schedule. This would be similar to the recommendation for children to get the annual influenza vaccine — it’s a recommendation but not a requirement.”

Pekosz explains that “individual school systems would be allowed to determine how to deal” with the CDC recommendations and “pediatricians would probably have more discussions with parents about the COVID vaccine if it was part of the childhood immunization schedule.”

In a statement published on Oct. 20, the CDC clarified that the organization “only makes recommendations for use of vaccines, while school-entry vaccination requirements are determined by state or local jurisdictions.”

The CDC also stated that it’s “important to note that there are no changes in COVID-19 vaccine policy” and that the vote “simply helps streamline clinical guidance for healthcare providers by including all currently licensed, authorized and routinely recommended vaccines in one document.”

However, given that children have the lowest rates of hospitalization and death from COVID, some have questioned why the vaccines would need to be added to the list of childhood immunizations. Pekosz explains that “while children have the lowest rates of disease severity from COVID, COVID disease still causes a large number of severe infections in that age group. There are much more severe cases of COVID in children than there are in any given year from influenza, for example, and influenza vaccination is recommended for all children.”

He points out that COVID vaccines are “much, much safer than getting a COVID infection in this and all age groups, which is another reason why it is being recommended.”

Pekosz adds: “We also have to realize that COVID-19 will be an ongoing problem and we need to have a strategy in place to limit case numbers as well as severe cases — vaccination is one important part of that strategy.”

The CDC’s advisory committee also voted to add COVID-19 vaccines to the federally funded Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides free vaccines to eligible children of families who might not otherwise be able to afford them — specifically, that includes kids 18 years and younger who are either American Indian or Alaska Native, uninsured, underinsured or Medicaid-eligible. This “helps reduce disparities in access,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all ages and populations remains critically important,” the CDC’s Dr. Sara Oliver said at the meeting, according to ABC News. “This includes now, while the vaccines are being supplied by the federal government, and in the future, when we one day move to a commercial program.”

That day isn’t far off — Pfizer recently announced that it would start charging between $110 and $130 per dose for its COVID vaccine once the U.S. government’s purchasing program ends, which is expected to happen next year.

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