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White House unveils plan to vaccinate young kids against COVID

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White House unveils plan to vaccinate young kids against COVID

Biden administration shared distribution plans for Pfizer Covid-19 shots for kids ages 5 to 11 ahead of regulatory approval

  • Zients emphasized the administration’s forward planning, ahead of FDA and CDC approval, is an effort to be ready immediately operationally when a decision is made.
    Jonathan Cutrer/CC BY 2.0Zients emphasized the administration’s forward planning, ahead of FDA and CDC approval, is an effort to be ready immediately operationally when a decision is made.

Having secured enough vaccines for all 28 million Americans ages 5 to 11, the White House released its plans Wednesday to make Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine easily accessible to as many of these children as possible at pediatrician's offices, pharmacies and schools.

The blueprint hinges on approval to vaccinate young kids from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the Biden administration said planning ahead will ensure all parties will be ready to hit the ground running when they get the green light.

“We know millions of parents have been waiting for COVID-19 vaccine for kids in this age group, and should the FDA and CDC authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients at a press briefing Wednesday morning.

The FDA is set to hold an independent advisory committee meeting on the issue next Tuesday, while the CDC is scheduled to hold one a week later on Nov. 2-3. Federal regulators from each agency will evaluate whether the shot has been proven safe and effective for elementary-age children.

Just last month, Pfizer published a study that said a lower dose of its COVID-19 vaccine produced robust antibody responses in children ages 5 to 11.

Within a week after shots for young kids are approved, the Biden administration said it plans to begin shipping about 15 million doses to providers all across the country. The federal government has bought 65 million doses of Pfizer’s pediatric shot, which is about a third of the dosage administered to adults and teens.

“Importantly, we worked with Pfizer to modify the packaging of the pediatric doses to make it easier for pediatricians, family doctors and other providers to provide vaccines to children, and these vaccine doses will be shipped with all the supplies needed to vaccinate kids, including smaller needles,” Zients said Wednesday.

Like adults, children will receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, spaced two weeks apart with maximum immunity two weeks after the second. If the shot is approved for ages 5 to 11 the first week of November, children who receive shots that week could be fully vaccinated by Christmas.

Zients emphasized the administration’s forward planning, ahead of FDA and CDC approval, is an effort to be ready immediately operationally when a decision is made, in stark contrast to the lagging response time when adult vaccines rolled out under former President Donald Trump late last year. 

“During the prior administration the vaccine became approved for emergency use by the FDA and CDC, and then the system wasn't ready to actually put shots in arms,” Zients said Wednesday. “So we're going to be ready, pending the FDA and CDC decision that'll be based on science.”

According to the White House, more than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers will be ready to dole out Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to kids, alongside tens of thousands of pharmacies, hundreds of school and community-based clinics, and more than 100 children’s hospitals and health systems.

Also speaking at the COVID-19 task force meeting Wednesday was Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the father of a 5-year-old himself. He emphasized that the administration also plans to roll out an informational campaign that will inform parents and kids about the safety of the vaccines. 

“We will work with schools to send letters home to parents. We will convene doctors and health clinics and support them in delivering vaccinations as soon as they have conversations with families. We will provide faith leaders with materials and toolkits that they can distribute to their congregations,” Murthy said. “We will create forums for parents to ask questions to help experts, and with all of this we will make sure that we are reaching parents in their language, and through the people they trust.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also emphasized at the meeting Wednesday that while children were thought to contract the virus at lower rates than adults, that may not be the case anymore.

“A recent paper just came out that actually showed … in the era of delta, children get infected as readily as adults do,” Fauci said, referring to the Delta variant of the coronavirus. “And they transmit the infection as readily as the adults do. We may not appreciate that, because about 50% of the infections in children are asymptomatic.”

He added that getting schoolchildren vaccinated would be a step in the right direction toward achieving herd immunity.

“If we can get the overwhelming majority of those 28 million children vaccinated, I think that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community,” Fauci said.

Roughly 219 million Americans over age 12 have received a COVID-19 shot and nearly 190 million are fully vaccinated.

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