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As COVID shots for kids 5-11 roll out, pediatricians & pharmacies begin scheduling appointments

As pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began arriving in Pima County for children 5-11, doctors and pharmacies began scheduling appointments for this weekend after the Centers for Disease Control green-lighted the vaccine.

Pima County Health Department officials said Wednesday that the COVID-19 vaccine will be "widely available across Pima County from a variety of retail pharmacy and clinical providers, including pediatricians and other healthcare providers."

Both CVS Health—which manages CVS pharmacies— and Walgreens said they will begin offering appointments this weekend.

County officials said that the pediatric vaccine — which is a smaller dose than the shots for teenagers and adults — will be available at three Pima County Public Health Clinics, as well as the Abrams Public Health Center, and at "various mobile sites," including schools within days. County-manged sites were waiting for clinical guidance from the CDC before offering vaccinations, officials said.

Parents can go to Vaccines.gov or check with local pharmacies to see if vaccination appointments or walk-ins are available for children, county officials said. People can also search for vaccination appointments through the Arizona Department of Health Services Find a Vaccine site.

Locations and hours for Pima County sites will be available at the county's website for COVID-19 vaccines.

Pima County officials also said that parents should check with their child's healthcare provider to see if they offer COVID-19 vaccines. Some pediatricians in Tucson announced they were setting up appointments for children, including Mesquite Pediatrics, which announced Tuesday they had 300 doses of the vaccine and would have a vaccination drive-thru beginning Sunday.

Nationwide thousands of pediatricians pre-ordered vaccination doses, and Pfizer began shipping them out following the FDA's decision last week to approve the vaccine for emergency use.While the Pfizer vaccine has been cleared for adults, doses for children under 18 are still cleared for use under the emergency use authorization. Pfizer said it expected to send out 19,000 shipments of the vaccine, containing about 11 million doses over the next several days, and that millions of additional doses will be available soon.

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In Pima County, officials said they will eventually inoculate around 88,000 children, beginning with an additional allocation of 11,400 doses slated to be sent to 15 health-care providers. State officials have said that they expect 224,700 doses to begin vaccinations, and Pima County officials have said they expect to distribute 22,000 doses in November, with more doses coming over the next four months.

The county said they will not set up the large-scale 24-7 distribution sites that marked the early days of the vaccination effort at the beginning of this year, but will instead rely on its own health-care centers—including El Rio—on sites managed by United Health Care, as well as commercial pharmacies. The county will also work with schools in some cases to set up community vaccination locations especially in areas that are more socially vulnerable than others, said Crystal Rambaud, who manages the Vaccine Preventable Disease Program for the county Health Department.

Rambaud said that she didn't "anticipate" supply issues, and that there are preparations in place to ensure that the county can "wind up" and begin vaccinating kids appropriately. She said that the county had learned some lessons from the vaccinations of kids 12 and over.

This jump will be easier for us, because we've ironed out some of the issues around the earlier group," Rambaud said.

Pfizer's vaccine for children 5-11 is one-third the dosage given to children 12 and older—10 micrograms of mRNA compared to 30 micrograms. Young children will get the vaccination under the same protocol, getting two doses of the vaccine scheduled three weeks apart.

Officials said that the dose for children will come in vials marked by an orange cap and an orange label, distinguishing it from the vaccine for adults and teens that comes in vials with purple markings.

Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, praised the FDA's approval.

"More than 6 million children have been infected with this virus since the beginning of the pandemic, and children have suffered in numerous other ways. This includes disruptions to their education, harms to their mental and emotional health, and greatly diminished access to critical medical services," he said.

"Authorization of the vaccine for younger children is an important step in keeping them healthy and providing their families with peace of mind. The vaccine will make it safe for children to visit friends and family members, celebrate holiday gatherings, and to resume the normal childhood activities that they’ve missed during the pandemic," he said. "Pediatricians are standing by to talk with families about the vaccine and to administer the vaccine to children as soon as possible.”

Walgreens said Wednesday that appointments will be available for Saturday, Nov. 6, at "thousands" of locations.

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Vaccine shipments are "scheduled to arrive at select pharmacies later this week," Walgreens said, adding that appointments will be available and parents should schedule appointments at the company's website Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine, through the company's app, or by calling 1-800-Walgreens.

"More appointments will be available in the coming weeks as Walgreens receives additional vaccine," the company said.

"Walgreens pharmacy team members have significant experience vaccinating children and adolescents, and are ready to immunize this newly eligible population safely and as quickly as possible," said Dr. Kevin Ban, chief medical officer at Walgreens. "The COVID-19 vaccine is just as important to protect children as other routine immunizations are, and the expanded eligibility will help children stay in school safely and prevent severe illness due to COVID-19."

Walgreens website showed the company was offering vaccine appointments at eight locations in the Tucson-area.

CVS Pharmacies said they were offering vaccinations beginning Sunday, Nov. 7, at about 1,700 locations nationwide.

"We know many parents have been waiting for the opportunity to vaccinate their young children and are looking for convenient access to a trusted resource for vaccinations," said Dr. Troyen A. Brennan, the executive vice president and chief medical officer at CVS Health. "Our immunizers have been preparing for this important role, and stand ready to help answer parents’ questions, guide them and their children through the process, and administer the vaccines safely, with kindness and caring."

Not all CVS Pharmacy locations will have vaccinations for children, rather certain stores were selected "because these locations have vaccinators on site who are solely focused on administering vaccines. CVS vaccinators in these locations have also received additional training on managing pediatric vaccinations to help ensure the best experience for children and their families," the company said.

In the Tucson-area, the CVS was offering vaccination appointments at two locations. Appointments are required, and CVS said that should use the company's website to schedule vaccinations.

Both companies said that parents must accompany children under 15. As with the adult COVID-19 vaccination, children and their parent or guardian will need to remain in the pharmacy area for at least 15 minutes following vaccination for observation.

Pediatrics and other health-care providers have recommended the vaccine for everyone.

Don Harrington, the acting director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said Tuesday that people should get the vaccine even if they've had COVID-19.

"As ADHS and our partners work to educate people about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, we are often emphasizing that the vaccine is recommended for everyone 12 and older, including those who have had a previous COVID-19 infection," he said. Harrington referred to a CDC study, which found that those previously infected with COVID-19 and unvaccinated were "five times more likely to be hospitalized" with a COVID "compared to those who were fully vaccinated and were never infected."

Earlier this week, the CDC reviewed more than 90 reports and studies, and found that "vaccination can provide better immunity against COVID-19 than natural infection with the virus," Harrington wrote.

On Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky cleared the path for the vaccine for children under 11 expanding vaccine coverage to about 28 million children in the U.S. 

"Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19," said Walensky. "We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine. As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated."

"COVID-19 vaccines have undergone – and will continue to undergo – the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history," the CDC said. "Vaccinating children will help protect them from getting COVID-19 and therefore reducing their risk of severe disease, hospitalizations, or developing long-term COVID-19 complications."

"Getting your children vaccinated can help protect them against COVID-19, as well as reduce disruptions to in-person learning and activities by helping curb community transmission," the CDC added.

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While relatively few children have died from a COVID-19 infection, the CDC noted that the virus can still require hospitalization, and some children experience in multi-system inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C, as well as long-term complications, known as "long COVID," in which symptoms can linger for months. The CDC said that during a 6-week period in late June to mid-August, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased five-fold.

"Vaccination, along with other preventative measures, can protect children from COVID-19 using the safe and effective vaccines already recommended for use in adolescents and adults in the United States," the CDC said.  "Similar to what was seen in adult vaccine trials, vaccination was nearly 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among children aged 5-11 years. In clinical trials, vaccine side effects were mild, self-limiting, and similar to those seen in adults and with other vaccines recommended for children."

"The most common side effect was a sore arm," the CDC said.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A young man gets a COVID-19 vaccination at a Tucson Medical Center clinic during January 2021.