A young girl gets her temperature checked at a check-in table.
Children getting vaccinated at a Portland Public Schools pop up clinic. Portland Public Schools

State health officials have approved pediatric COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old in Oregon. In a Friday press conference, officials called the vaccine approval for 230,000 of Oregon’s youngest residents a turning point in the pandemic.

“Many families with young children are living like it’s March 2020,” said Dawn Nolt, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Oregon Health and Science University. “I feel like we are turning a page in the pandemic by being able to offer strong protection that was previously available to just a few parts of the population, we can now offer it to the youngest part of our population.”

The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup—the panel of experts who guide Oregon’s immunization decisions—approved both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines children as young as 6 months old on Sunday. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved the expanded age eligibility over the weekend, noting that the benefits of the vaccine for young children outweighs any potential risk.

Health officials said the first round of vaccines—about 60,000 doses—will be arriving in Oregon on Monday and Tuesday, but the Juneteenth holiday may slightly delay distribution to healthcare providers. Vaccine appointments are expected to begin this week.

The Moderna vaccine is approved for children 6 months to 5 years old, and the Pfizer vaccine is available for kids 6 months to 4 years old. The Moderna vaccine is a two dose series that takes 6 weeks to complete, while the Pfizer vaccine is a three dose series over 13 weeks. The two vaccines create similar antibodies, according to Nolt, but because each dose of the Moderna vaccine is stronger, it may cause stronger side effects like fever or injection site pain.

Oregon has an equal supply of both vaccines and while eager parents may feel inclined to secure a Moderna vaccine so their child can be fully vaccinated faster, Nolt said the best vaccine is whichever one is available first.

“Both vaccines will significantly lower the child’s risk of infection, severe symptoms, and hospitalizations,” Nolt said. “We recommend that families get their child vaccinated with the first vaccine that’s available.”

Oregon health officials recommend families contact their child’s healthcare provider first to see if they can administer the vaccine before making an appointment at a local pharmacy. Pharmacies cannot vaccinate children under 3 years old and some pharmacies do not vaccinate children under 7. Vaccines will also be available through local vaccine clinics.

Nolt and state epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger urged families to get their children vaccinated sooner rather than later. While COVID rates in children have been lower in comparison to older populations, the infection rate among children 5 and younger has increased with each new COVID variant. COVID infections for Oregonians 5 and under were five times higher during the omicron surge earlier this year compared to the delta wave in 2021, according to Sidelinger.

“There are a lot of unexpected things that happen to kids that land them in the hospital and COVID shouldn't be one of them,” Nolt said. “I would urge people to get their children vaccinated so they can remove one uncertainty from their child’s life.”