U.S. federal officials say that millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine would be available within days of the vaccine being cleared by regulators.
That means that school-age kids could start getting vaccinated by early November. For that to happen, many pieces need to fall in place. Here’s what we know so far.
Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize emergency use of their COVID-19 mRNA vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee is
Shortly afterwards, the CDC’s vaccine committee will
If these reviews go well — and the FDA and CDC agree with their advisory committees — the federal government could begin shipping up to 20 million doses within days of emergency authorization.
The federal government has purchased enough doses of the vaccine to fully vaccinate all 28 million eligible 5-to-11-year-olds in the country, reports The Washington Post.
The government will likely distribute the doses to states based on their number of eligible children, although details about the allocation haven’t yet been released.
The White House is expected to work with states, pharmacies, medical groups, and community health centers during the rollout of the vaccine.
However, the exact vaccination locations for school-age kids has yet to be determined.
But expect some aspects of the rollout to be different than what happened for teens and adults, said Dr. Judith Flores, a pediatrician in Brooklyn, New York.
“You are not going to have [mass vaccination sites] and lots of Department of Health places to give kids vaccine,” she said. “Kids are probably going to be vaccinated by their own physicians.”
Dr. Sunanda Gaur, a professor of pediatrics at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, agrees that pediatricians should play the main role in vaccination, because in general, parents trust their child’s doctor.
“Pediatricians’ offices are well-equipped to deliver vaccines to children, as they have been delivering childhood vaccines for many other illnesses,” she said. “Large vaccine sites and even pharmacies are not as proficient with pediatric vaccinations.”
In addition, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has different storage, handling, and administration requirements than the flu vaccines, which may limit which clinics can vaccinate children for COVID-19.
Pfizer has also proposed giving a smaller dose to 5-to-11-year-olds, which will affect the rollout. The final decision on dosage will rest with the FDA and CDC.
Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who is on the board of Pfizer, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the company plans to ship the pediatric vaccine in smaller trays and vials with different color caps to distinguish them from the vaccine for those 12 and older.
The smaller number of doses per shipment could make it easier for pediatric practices to vaccinate kids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its materials to help pediatricians prepare for the vaccine rollout.
To encourage parents to have their children vaccinated, the U.S. Health and Human Services and the Education departments plan to run a “robust messaging/outreach campaign,” according to The Washington Post.
Some parents may not need much encouragement.
A survey last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about a third of parents plan to have their 5-to-11-year-old vaccinated “right away” after the vaccine is authorized for this age group.
About a third of parents said they would “wait and see,” while one-quarter said that they’ll “definitely not” have their child vaccinated.
However, a study published last month in
Nearly half of Black parents surveyed were hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine for their child, compared to one-third of Latinx parents and around one-quarter of white parents.
Researchers also found that parents who turned to family members, the internet, or healthcare providers for information about COVID-19 were less hesitant about the vaccine for their child.
“We need to have information available on the internet that’s coming from reliable sources, and written in a way that families really get their questions answered,” said study author Dr. Jennifer D. Kusma, a pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and an instructor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
She also thinks pediatricians can help parents make an informed decision about vaccinating their child.
“Let us do the heavy lifting,” said Kusma. “Let us read through all of the research or the documents that come out about the vaccine, so we can be that source of information and answer your questions.”
Flores says because only about a third of parents will rush to get their child vaccinated against COVID-19, this will alleviate some of the strain on busy pediatric offices.
Many kids fell behind in their regular vaccinations during the pandemic, such as for measles, mumps, and meningitis. So they may be catching up this fall.
In addition, adults, teens, and children are all eligible right now for the flu shot.
“There may be a lot of conflicting interests,” said Flores. “Plus the fact that adults are going to be running around trying to get their [COVID-19] boosters at the same time.”