Off-Label Prescription of COVID-19 Vaccines in Children: Clinical, Ethical, and Legal Issues
Sturm College of Law
Emergency use authorization, Informed consent, Off-label prescribing, Comirnaty
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the biologics license application for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease 2019 vaccine (Comirnaty) on August 23, 2021, opened the door to the off-label vaccination of children younger than the age range currently covered by either the biologics license application (16 years old and older) or the emergency use authorization (12 to 15 years old). Although prescribing medications at doses, for conditions, or in populations other than those approved by the FDA is generally legal and is common in pediatrics, the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended against off-label prescription of the coronavirus disease 2019 vaccine. Several commentaries consider a case in which parents ask their child’s pediatrician to prescribe the vaccine for their 11-year-old with special health care needs before approval or authorization in her age group. The first commentary considers the potential benefits and risks to the patient, as well as to the family, the provider, and society, emphasizing the unknown risks in younger patients and the need for adequate informed consent. The second commentary describes an algorithm and principles for evaluating off-label prescribing and argues that the current benefits of prescribing Comirnaty off label to children issues, ultimately calling on federal agencies to remove legal barriers to making the vaccine available to children in age groups that currently lack authorization.
Jennifer E. deSante-Bertkau, et al., Off-Label Prescription of COVID-19 Vaccines in Children: Clinical, Ethical, and Legal Issues, 149 Pediatrics 1 (2022).