CDC approves COVID vaccines for kids 5-11, rollout begins Wednesday

Panel and director both agree on safety and efficacy; research will continue for children under 5.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s advisers on Tuesday overwhelmingly recommended the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use authorization in children ages 5-11.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky endorsed it, setting the supply chain in motion for the intricate delivery of 28 million two-dose schedules from distribution centers to pediatricians, hospitals and clinics.

“We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” Walensky said. “As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”

Appointments can begin Wednesday, where vaccines are available. There is hope that a large cohort of that age group could get first doses before Thanksgiving and be fully vaccinated before the winter break.

While some parents are eager to get their children doses having waited 20 months for this moment, others are exercising caution, despite efficacy and the overwhelming safety recommendations of the FDA and CDC panel.

“Children are dying, and we can reduce hospitalization and death with this safe and effective vaccine that will benefit the community,” said Dr. Oliver Brooks, one of the CDC’s panelists.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the young group being vaccinated are K-12 districts, which are hopeful that dosing will mean the further reopening of schools with little fear of transmission and outcomes in adults mentioned by Brooks, such as long COVID, hospitalization and death.

Help in distribution from higher ed

Many centers are already preparing for the rollout, including universities that have integrated healthcare systems.

Ohio Northern University, which has been dispensing shots to those 12-and-over throughout its area, is readying its pharmacy and its HealthWise Mobile Clinic for that young wave of individuals who will receive vaccines. “We’re 100 percent on board with this,” College of Pharmacy Dean Steve Martin said in a statement to the university.

This is a busy time for health staff at ONU and other institutions. ONU is not only preparing for young children to get their shots, which will be about a third-less potent than adult doses, but it also is giving booster shots for COVID-19 as well as flu shots. For families who have questions and concerns, Martin and OSU professor and Healthwise Director Michael Rush have put together myriad resources and tips to help them prepare.

West Virginia University and its county health department are hoping to hold a joint clinic where the Pfizer vaccine will be administered to its faculty, staff and students who have young children. WVU asked those who were interested to fill out a questionnaire by today to gauge the number of appointments needed. WVU is planning for a two-day clinic next Wednesday and Thursday in its Rec Center, with second doses being distributed on Nov. 29, just after the Thanksgiving break.

The University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine said they are “eagerly preparing to administer the COVID-19 vaccine for children age 5-11 years” but, like others, are waiting on further guidance from the CDC on dispensing of the vaccine. Michigan is advising families and guardians to ensure that they have accounts through its patient portal before trying to make appointments, as there likely will be a flood of interest once slots open.

The University of Wisconsin already has created a waitlist for 5-11-year-olds and will only be accepting appointments, not walk-ins, to its UW Medicine locations.

Though it won’t be offering doses at its campus locations, the University of Kentucky and its HealthCare team are planning to provide a vaccination site off campus. “We are in continuous contact with state and federal health officials regarding vaccines for children under 11 and are preparing to distribute the vaccine as soon as it become available,” Dr. Lindsay Ragsdale, Interim Chief Medical Officer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, said.

Some university health centers are taking a pass for now at trying to distribute vaccines to the 5-11 population, including the University of Texas Health Austin and East Tennessee State University Health, which do not have emergency supplies for young patients at clinics.

Meanwhile, Washington University in St. Louis is among more than 100 institutions whose researchers have worked behind the scenes on vaccine safety and efficacy. Its team has been evaluating the 6-11 age group to check their tolerance of the Moderna vaccine. They will then conduct similar trials on the youngest age groups after that.

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