Health Care

White House unveils plans to roll out COVID-19 vaccines for kids 5 and under

FILE – A vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine is seen ready for use in the trial at St. George’s University hospital in London, Oct. 7, 2020. The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine that could soon win federal approval may offer a boost for the U.S. military: an opportunity to get shots into some of the thousands of service members who have refused the vaccine for religious reasons. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

Ten million pediatric COVID-19 vaccine doses will be available for states, Tribes and other jurisdictions to pre-order in anticipation of vaccinations for kids ages 5 and younger beginning before the end of the month, the White House announced Thursday.

Administration officials outlining the plan said vaccines will be distributed across thousands of different sites, but they will put a focus on frontline providers like pediatricians and primary care doctors, as that is where they expect many families will want to go. 

Officials said they estimate that 85 percent of children under the age of 5 live within five miles of a potential vaccination site. 

“We know that there are many parents who’ve been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to vaccinate their youngest kids and we share their eagerness,” a senior administration official said. “Everyday, all day right now we are focusing on getting ready to have this as accessible as possible to as many families as possible.”

Jurisdictions were able to pre-order five million doses combined of Pfizer and Moderna’s shots beginning last Friday, and another five million were made available on Wednesday, officials said during a briefing with reporters.  The doses cannot ship until the Food and Drug Administration gives its authorization. 

To date, jurisdictions have ordered just 58 percent of the available Pfizer doses and 34 percent of the available Moderna doses. But officials stressed it was still early in the ordering process, and it followed a similar pattern to what they saw with vaccines for adults and adolescents.

“Our experience is that the longer the ordering stays open, the more likely the states come forward. So some of this is a matter of letting them know the ordering is available and that they can begin that process,” a senior administration official said. “We’re not too worried or focused on that and we’ll continue to do these outreaches.” 

Aside from pediatricians’ offices, specially-packaged vaccines will be made available at community health centers, rural health clinics, children’s hospitals, public health clinics, local pharmacies and other community-based organizations. Officials said they will also undertake a campaign to educate parents more fully about the vaccines.

One of the most important lessons officials said they learned from the earlier vaccination campaigns is the need for trusted messengers to overcome vaccine hesitancy. While some parents are eager to get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible, vaccination rates have lagged for older children, indicating rates may lag for young children as well. 

Only about 30 percent of children 5 to 11 have been vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are going to meet people where they are and answer their questions. And so what we are trying to do is, we’re trying to ensure that those people in communities including pediatricians, have the information that they need to answer parents questions,” a senior administration official said.

Children under 5 are the only age group that still has no vaccine available. 

An FDA advisory committee is scheduled to meet on June 14 and 15 to consider the applications from Pfizer and Moderna, and a CDC panel will meet Friday and Saturday, June 17 and June 18. 

Vaccines would start getting administered once CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signs off. Officials said they anticipate vaccines will start to be delivered to sites over that weekend, but because June 20 is a federal holiday, vaccinations won’t begin in earnest until June 21.

Tags Children vaccines vaccine vaccine boosters

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