A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel voted Thursday to include the COVID-19 vaccine on the list of routine immunizations for adults and children as young as 6 months.
The agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) unanimously voted to add the coronavirus shot to the 2023 list, which includes shots for the flu; measles, mumps and rubella; polio; and other inoculations.
The full agency now needs to sign off to make the recommendation official. The CDC doesn’t have to follow the advice of the panel, though it often does. If the CDC endorses the recommendation, the new list would be published in February.
Contrary to claims made on social media and on television, including by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, the recommendation does not mean the CDC is requiring a COVID-19 shot for children. It also does not mean that schools will have to require that students receive the shot before enrolling.
“The CDC guidelines based on public health are there to help inform those decisions, but those are state decisions. And different states make different decisions and nothing about about what CDC did changes that,” said Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Instead, the routine vote means the CDC would be recommending people get the shots as a regular part of their vaccinations against common infectious diseases. The vaccine schedule is an important resource for physicians, especially pediatricians, that can help guide them on when it’s best to administer certain vaccines.
The CDC does not have the authority to mandate vaccines; that decision is left up to states and local jurisdictions.
For example, the flu vaccine has long been on the schedule of recommended childhood immunizations, but hardly any state mandates it for public schools.
“Local control matters. And we honor that the decision around school entrance for vaccines rests where it did before, which is with the state level, the county level and at the municipal level, if it exists at all,” said panel member Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Julie Morita, executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said aside from being an important resource for physicians, the immunization schedule is also important for insurance coverage.
“When these vaccines are added to the immunization schedules like this, insurance companies then take up the cost of the vaccines. So when the public health emergency and or the federal resources dry up, insurance companies would then pick up the cost,” Morita said.
Public health experts decried the spread of misinformation that’s continued throughout the course of the pandemic.
“I think there are some some people some organizations that are purposely spreading information that’s just not accurate,” Kates said. “It’s objectively false information that’s being spread, which unfortunately has the implication that it actually can harm public health.”
Morita said public health officials and healthcare providers need to work together to ensure that accurate information is easily and consistently available, as an effort to head off the barrage of misinformation, especially about the coronavirus vaccine.
“It needs to be a constant drumbeat,” Morita said. “You know, when resources are shifting, and there’s not the same kind of attention to promotion of the vaccine and addressing the facts and dissemination of the information … then we look at flagging coverage levels and I think that’s a concern.”
ACIP members said that since the coronavirus is not going away, it makes sense to recommend children get vaccinated.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the first COVID-19 vaccines in 2020, and they are now available for children as young as 6 months. Boosters are authorized for children as young as 5 years.
The primary vaccine against the original strain of the virus is approved by the FDA for use in adults and adolescents, but not yet for young children.
Still, ACIP members said the benefits outweighed the risks and recommended including the primary shot from Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax as well as the new bivalent booster.
Updated at 3:58 p.m.