White House Announces Vaccination Plans for Younger Children

Brenda Goodman, MA

October 20, 2021

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The White House said today in a press conference that it has purchased enough of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to immunize all 28 million children in the United States who are between the ages of 5 and 12.

States were allowed to begin preordering the shots this week.

"We know millions of parents have been waiting for COVID-19 vaccine for kids in this age group, and should the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] and CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms," said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

The shots could be available in early November if the FDA and the CDC authorize and recommend use of the Pfizer vaccine for this age group.

Asked whether announcing plans to deliver vaccines to children might put pressure on the agencies, which are currently considering the evidence for their use, Zients defended the administration's plans.

"This is the right way to do things: To be operationally ready," he said.

Zients said they had learned a lesson from the prior administration.

"The decision was made by the FDA and CDC, and the operations weren't ready. And that meant that adults at the time were not able to receive their vaccines as efficiently, equitably as possible. And this will enable us to be ready for kids," he said.

Pfizer submitted data to the FDA in late September from its test of the use of the vaccine in 2200 children. The company said the shots had a favorable safety profile and generated "robust" antibody responses in kids.

An FDA panel is scheduled to meet on October 26 to consider Pfizer's application. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet the following week on November 2 and 3.

Laying the Groundwork

Doctors applauded the advance planning.

"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," said Gerald Harman, MD, president of the American Medical Association, in a written statement.

The vaccine for children will be available at a dose of 10 μg, which is smaller than the dose given to adults. To be fully immunized, children must be administered two doses, which are given about 21 days apart.

Vaccines for younger children are packaged in smaller vials and are injected through smaller needles.

The rollout of the vaccine for younger children be slightly different than it has been for adults and teens. Adults mostly received their COVID-19 vaccines through pop-up mass vaccination sites, health departments, and other community locations, whereas the strategy for immunizing children against COVID is centered around doctor's offices — those of pediatricians and primary care physicians.

Zients said shots for kids would also be available through community sites such as pharmacies and schools.

Pediatricians On Call

The White House says 25,000 doctors have already signed up to give the vaccines.

The vaccination campaign will get underway at a tough moment for pediatricians.

The voice mail message at Roswell Pediatrics Center, in the suburbs north of Atlanta, Georgia, for instance, asks parents to be patient.

"Due to the current, new COVID-19 surge, we are experiencing extremely high call volume, as well as suffering from the same staffing shortages that most businesses are having," the message said. It noted that they were working around the clock to answer questions and return phone calls.

Jesse Hackell, MD, says he knows the feeling. Hackell is the chief operating officer of Pomona Pediatrics, in Pomona, New York, and is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"We're swamped now by kids who get sent home from school because they sneezed once and they have to be cleared before they can go back to school," Hackell said. "We're seeing kids who we don't need to see in terms of the degree of illness because the school requires them to be cleared [of COVID-19]."

Hackell has been offering the vaccines to children aged 12 years and up since May. He's planning to offer it to younger children also.

"Adding the vaccines to it is going to be challenge, but you know we'll get up to speed and we'll make it happen," he said. He pointed out that pediatricians have undertaken many large-scale vaccination campaigns, such as the campaign to distribute H1N1 influenza vaccine in 2009.

Hackell helped to draft a new policy in New York that will require COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren once the vaccines are granted full approval from the FDA. Other states may follow with their own vaccination requirements.

He said that ultimately, vaccinating school-age children is going to make them safer, will help prevent the virus from mutating and spreading, and will help the society as a whole get back to normal.

"We're the vaccine experts in pediatrics. This is what we do. It's a huge part of our practice like no other specialty. If we can't get it right, how can anyone else be expected to?" he said.

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