As parents await the decision of federal regulators to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, the Biden administration says it’s ready to mobilize doses as soon as it gets the green light.
In a media briefing Wednesday, officials revealed a comprehensive plan to supply enough vaccine for the approximately 28 million children. The administration estimates that about 15 million doses will be available within the first week.
Shots could be authorized the first week of November. A key Food and Drug Administration advisory committeeis expected to make its recommendation on Oct. 26. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention independent advisory committee is set to weigh in during meetings on Nov. 2-3. The recommendations must be approved by both agency heads.
“We’re going to be ready, pending the FDA and the CDC decision that will be based on science. We want to make sure the operations are ready to accommodate kids,” said Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator. “The best practice here is to plan ahead so that we can hit the ground running.”
The administration stands ready to supply more than 25,000 pediatricians’ offices and other primary care sites, more than 100 children’s hospitals and health systems, tens of thousands of pharmacies, and hundreds of schools and community-based clinics. Administration officials say they are working with states and localities to enroll more sites.
Locations are expected to offer appointments that can be made iduring convenient hours – such as after school, evenings and on weekends – or accept walk-ins, officials say.
“We know parents rely on a range of health care providers to meet their children’s needs,” Zients said. “We’re doing the work to ensure parents will be able to get their kids ages 5 to 11 to get vaccinated with these trusted providers.”
Children’s hospitals are expected to collaborate with community organizations to host vaccination events evenings and weekends. The administration says it’s working with local education leaders and pharmacies to bring vaccines directly to schools by setting up on-site clinics.
Federal leaders also are organizing a national campaign to provide accurate information to parents and guardians. That includes funding for more than14,000 members of the COVID-19 Community Corps to mobilize grassroots efforts, working closely with trusted messengers of the community, and visiting hard-hit and high-risk communities.
“We will ensure that vaccinations for kids ages 5 to 11 are easy, convenient and accessible to every family,” Zients said. “Equity and fairness will be at the center of our pediatric vaccination program.”
If authorized in the coming weeks, Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine will be the only COVID-19 vaccine offered to children 5 to 11. As of now, COVID vaccines developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have not received FDA authorization for children and adolescents under 18.
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The one-third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children will be contained in 10-dose vials in cartons of 10 vials each, and they can be stored up to 10 weeks in standard refrigeration temperatures and six months at ultra-cold temperatures. The vaccine will come with supplies needed to serve kids, including smaller needles.
Medical organizations applauded the Biden administration’s planning to make sure the rollout of pediatric vaccines avoids the delays and supply constraints during the bumpy rollout of adult vaccines last year.
“Recent polling indicates that parents are eager to vaccinate their children and protect them from COVID-19,” said Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, president American Medical Association. “Laying this advance groundwork, ensuring supply is available at physician practices, and that a patient’s own physician is available to answer questions, is critical to the continued success of this rollout.”
It’s all but certain the FDA committeewill recommendthe vaccine for children 5 to 11 in next week’s meeting.
Pfizer’s study of 2,268 volunteers showed the vaccine was not only safefor younger kids but effective in mounting the same type of strong immune response as inteens and young adults. But health experts say vaccine developers may not get a true sense of the vaccine’s effectiveness until millions of children get their shots.
Until then, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy urged parents to get vaccinated and continue wearing masks in public spaces.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told reporters that vaccinating millions of children ages 5 to 11 will not only protect them against COVID-19 but also stifle community transmission and nudge the country closer to herd immunity.
Recent data shows children are as likely to get infected by the delta coronavirus variant as adults, he said, and about 50% of infections in children are asymptomatic.
“If we can get the overwhelming majority of those 28 million children vaccinated, that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community,” Fauci said. “That’s one of the reasons why we want to do as best as we can to get those children from 5 to 11 vaccinated.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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