White House rolls out plan to quickly immunize kids age 5 to 11 against Covid

Thomas Lo (15) receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, New York, May 13, 2021.

Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

The White House on Wednesday outlined its plan to distribute doses of Pfizer and BioNTech‘s Covid-19 vaccine to kids ages 5 to 11 as soon as it’s authorized by U.S. drug regulators.

The Biden administration said it’s procured enough vaccine to inoculate all 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds in the U.S., and will distribute it in smaller dosing and with smaller needles to make it easier for pediatricians and pharmacists to administer to kids.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to authorize the shots within a few weeks. The FDA and CDC’s vaccine advisory committees are holding key meetings to review Pfizer’s data on kids Oct. 26 and Nov. 2, respectively, with decisions by agency leaders shortly thereafter.

“We know millions of parents who’ve been waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine for kids in this age group and should the FDA and CDC authorized the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.

Zients said 15 million doses will be ready to ship within a week after it’s authorized, with millions of additional shots coming each week thereafter. Health providers can store the vaccines for 10 weeks under normal refrigeration, or for up to six months in ultracold temperatures, officials said.

Many parents say they are anxious to get their children vaccinated with the new school year kicking off while the delta variant is still spreading across America. Over the past week, there were about 131,000 new child Covid cases, with more than 1.1 million kids cases added over the past six weeks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

More than 25,000 pediatricians’ offices and tens of thousands of pharmacies nationwide will provide vaccines for the rollout to younger age groups. The administration is also working with the Children’s Hospital Association to create vaccination sites at more than 100 pediatric hospital systems by November.

The White House started laying the groundwork with states earlier this month, asking governors to enroll pediatricians and other providers in vaccination programs so they could start administering shots as soon as they were ready.

“In the era of delta, children get infected as readily as adults do, and they transmit the infection as readily as the adults do.” White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters Wednesday, citing new data published in the JAMA Pediatrics. “We may not appreciate that, because about 50% of the infections in children are asymptomatic.”

Pfizer has asked federal regulators to authorize a two-dose regimen of 10 micrograms — a third of the dosage used for teens and adults. The company is providing 10-dose vaccine vials in cartons of 10 vials each, giving doctors’ offices and community health groups 100 total doses per package.

“Kids have different needs than adults, and our operational planning is geared to meet those specific needs, including by offering vaccinations and settings that parents and kids are familiar with,” Zients said.

Many kids will also be able to get vaccinated at school, officials said. The administration will issue full funding through FEMA for states to launch vaccination sites, purchase medical supplies and provide transportation to community vaccination sites.

Select schools will also be matched with vaccine providers that will set up immunization clinics for their students, officials said. The White House is also allocating vaccines for hundreds of local health centers and rural clinics to serve the more than 3 million children that receive health care from community medical providers.

The White House said the Department of Health and Human Services will conduct a public education campaign to reach parents and other caregivers with “accurate and culturally-responsive information” about the vaccine and the risks that Covid poses to children.

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