When a COVID-19 vaccine is available for children ages 5-11, federal officials will immediately ship it to children’s hospitals, pediatricians, and pharmacies across the country so that providers can quickly administer it, the White House said Wednesday.
The Biden administration detailed its plans for the next phase of a massive national immunization effort as federal agencies prepare to consider granting emergency use authorization to provide the Pfizer-BioNTech to younger children this month.
That plan includes smaller doses, more-flexible supplies, and efforts to provide children’s vaccines at locations families trust: schools, pediatrician’s offices, and community health providers.
“Kids have different needs from adults, and our operational plan is designed to meet those needs,” White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said at a news conference.
Federal officials have worked with Pfizer to modify packaging that will allow smaller numbers of the doses to be used at once, allowing for smaller-scale distribution efforts without the risk of discarded doses, Zients said.
Those smaller packages of kid-sized doses will be shipped with all supplies needed, including smaller needles, to thousands of providers around the country as soon as the Centers for Disease Control gives final approval, which is expected at a Nov. 2-3 meeting.
Shipping vaccines for 28 million children
That green light will open up eligibility to about 28 million children who were previously too young to be vaccinated.
While children are at lower risk of severe illness from COVID-19, they have seen an increase in cases because of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus, said Anthony Fauci, the nation’ chief epidemiologist, at the Wednesday briefing. In addition, raising the rates of vaccination in the population as a whole could help lower the risk of spreading the virus to more-vulnerable people, he said.
“If we could get a majority of those children vaccinated, I think that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection within a community,” Fauci said.
Schools will play a key role in the administration’s pediatric vaccine efforts. To combat vaccine misinformation, federal officials plan to provide letters that schools and clergy can distribute to parents, Zients said.
And agencies plan to coordinate an education campaign that includes media appearances, outreach efforts in multiple languages, and events with local health professionals to answer questions for families who may not have primary health-care providers.
Coordinating school-based vaccination efforts
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse states for school-based vaccination efforts, the White House plan said. And the administration will work to pair schools with local providers and pharmacies that can help provide on-site inoculations.
“As with vaccination for those 12 and older, the success of this program will rely heavily on states, Tribes, and territories to help implement a smooth rollout,” the White House plan says.
So the administration is holding “readiness calls” with states and territories in advance of the expected vaccine authorization to finalize plans.
In addition to school-based efforts, providers expected to administer vaccines include about 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers, 100 children’s hospitals, and thousands of pharmacies, community health centers, and rural clinics.
Support for state and local vaccine requirements
While President Joe Biden has called for vaccine mandates for adult workers, the administration has not called for any federal requirements for pediatric vaccines.
Officials including Fauci and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, have said they support state and local plans to mandate vaccines for school attendance. California is the only state to have set such a requirement on a broad scale. Around the country, some districts have adopted or considered their own local requirements or set vaccine mandates for smaller populations, such as student athletes.
Even as shots become available for younger children, it remains important for unvaccinated adults to roll up their sleeves, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said Wednesday.
“As we await this decision, the best thing we can do to protect our children is to get vaccinated ourselves and to wear a mask in public places,” he said.