Bring on the playdates and birthday parties. The White House says 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. But they can’t be delivered into kids’ arms until the FDA and CDC sign off. The shots could be available in early November.
“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,” Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said at a Wednesday morning briefing
Asked whether announcing plans to deliver a vaccine to children might put pressure on the agencies considering the evidence for their use, Zients defended the Biden 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 vaccine in 2,200 children. The company said the shots had a favorable safety profile and generated “robust” antibody responses.
An FDA panel is scheduled to meet on Oct. 26 to consider Pfizer’s application. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet the following week, on Nov. 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,” Gerald Harmon, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said in a written statement.
The shots planned for children are 10 micrograms, a smaller dose than is given to adults. To be fully immunized, kids get two doses, spaced about 21 days apart. Vaccines for younger children are packaged in smaller vials and injected through smaller needles, too.
The vaccine for younger children will roll out slightly differently than it has for adults and teens. While adults mostly got their COVID-19 vaccines through pop-up mass vaccination sites, health departments, and other community locations, the strategy to get children immunized against COVID is centered on the offices of pediatricians and primary care doctors.
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 voicemail message at Roswell Pediatrics Center in the suburbs north of Atlanta, for instance, warns 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 says, adding that they’re working around the clock to answer questions and return phone calls.
Jesse Hackell, MD, says he knows the feeling. He’s the chief operating officer of Pomona Pediatrics in Pomona, NY, and 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,” he 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 kids ages 12 and up since May. He’s planning to offer it to younger children too.
“Adding the vaccines to it is going to be a challenge, but you know we’ll get up to speed and we’ll make it happen,” he said, adding that pediatricians have done many large-scale vaccination campaigns, like those for the H1N1 influenza vaccine in 2009.
Hackell helped to draft a new policy in New York that will require COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren once they are granted full approval from the FDA. Other states may follow with their own vaccination requirements.
He said ultimately, vaccinating school-age children is going to make them safer, will help prevent the virus from mutating and spreading, and will help 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.