The White House already has plans in place to roll out the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
What You Need To Know
- The White House already has plans in place to roll out the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration
- The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it has secured enough shots to vaccinate all 28 million children who would become eligible if the FDA grants emergency use authorization to the shots
- It also would equip 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of community health centers and rural health clinics, and tens of thousands of pharmacies to administer the vaccine
- The federal government also is planning to make the vaccine available at hundreds of schools and community-based sites, as well as at children’s hospitals
The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it has secured enough shots to vaccinate all 28 million children who would become eligible if the FDA grants emergency use authorization to the shots. It also would equip 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of community health centers and rural health clinics, and tens of thousands of pharmacies to administer the vaccine.
The doses — along with smaller needles for injecting kids — would begin shipping to providers within hours of CDC approval in early November. Fifteen million doses would go out in the first week, said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.
“We know millions of parents have been waiting for a 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,” Zients told reporters.
The federal government also is planning to make the vaccine available at hundreds of schools and community-based sites, as well as at children’s hospitals.
“We will ensure that vaccinations for kids ages 5 to 11 are easy, convenient and accessible to every family,” Zients said. “Importantly, as we've done throughout all of our vaccination efforts, equity and fairness will be at the center of our pediatric vaccination program.”
The Biden administration also plans to launch a public education campaign "to reach parents and guardians with accurate and culturally responsive information about the vaccine and the risks that COVID-19 poses to children," the White House said. As it has with adults, the administration believes trusted messengers such as educators, doctors and community leaders will be key in encouraging vaccinations.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the education campaign would including letters sent home from schools to parents, “materials and toolkits” faith leaders would distribute to their congregations and public forums for parents to ask questions to health experts.
“And with all of this, we will make sure that we are reaching parents in their language and through the people they trust,” Murthy said.
Asked Wednesday whether the Biden administration will move to support vaccine mandates for students, Mary Wall, a senior White House education adviser, told Spectrum News that the decision will ultimately lay in the hands of state and local governments.
"I think that vaccine requirements, in general, they work. We issued a report recently about vaccine requirements across a variety of different industries for adults, in which we talked about how these mandates have led to significant increases in the numbers of people who are vaccinated," Wall said.
"Within the setting of children and in K-12 schools, vaccine requirements are nothing new," Wall added. "Every state in the country has vaccine requirements in order to access K-12 learning."
"For something like this … it's very much been in – as it is for all other vaccines – in the domain of state and local governments to make that decision," she continued. "Every state has slightly different requirements for their vaccines, and we would treat this no differently."
Unlike the first vaccine rollout – where many states offered incentives such as cash, lottery tickets, free college scholarships or other prizes – Wall said the incentive for children is the vaccine itself.
"I would say the biggest incentive there is here is to make sure that your family can remain safe," she told Spectrum News, adding that the White House is "not considering at this point any other incentives at this time, [and] our conversations and our communications are really geared towards parents."
Last month, Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, formally requested emergency use authorization for their vaccine to be administered 5- to 11-year-olds. If approved, the vaccine would be the first to be available to children under 12 in the U.S.
The companies say their clinical trial has shown that a lower dosage of the vaccine in that age group — a third of what is given to adults — generates antibody levels just as strong as in teenagers and young adults after the second dose.
Side effects — such as fever, achiness or sore arms — were similar to those observed in people ages 16-25.
An independent expert panel of advisers to the FDA will publicly discuss Pfizer’s data at an Oct. 26 meeting. Their nonbinding vote will then be considered when the agency makes it final decision. Emergency use authorization — different from full FDA approval — is given when officials believe a vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own committee of outside vaccine experts are then scheduled to meet Nov. 2-3. Its job is to recommend more specifics on administering the shots.
President Joe Biden came under fire from some health experts in August for announcing plans to roll out booster shots before regulators had reviewed the data, with critics arguing that the move put pressure on the FDA and CDC.
Throughout Wednesday’s press briefings, officials stressed that the plans are contingent on regulators green-lighting the vaccine for children. And when asked if the administration was concerned it might be repeating what some viewed as a misstep with boosters, Zients said the goal is to be “operationally ready” if the vaccine is green-lighted.
“To be crystal clear — as I think everybody has emphasized — that decision on authorization is with the FDA and with the CDC,” Zients said. “At the same time, we want to be ready. This is actually something we learned from the initial rollout during the prior administration, where the vaccine became approved for emergency use by the FDA and CDC and then the system wasn't ready to actually put shots in arms.”
Children are at a lower risk than adults of developing severe COVID-19, but serious cases do occur, and youths can spread the virus to others.
Coronavirus hospitalizations among children surged this summer before hitting their highest point of the pandemic in early September, despite the availability of vaccines for those 12 and older.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 6.2 million children have been infected with COVID-19 during the pandemic and 558 children have died from the disease in the 45 states and two U.S. territories reporting data. In the week ending Oct. 14, more than 130,000 children were infected by the virus, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s new cases.
More than 189 million Americans — 57% of the total population — have been fully vaccinated, but 112 million people, including 64 million who are eligible, have not received a single shot.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical adviser, said if the overwhelming majority of the 28 million children 5 to 11 get vaccinated, “I think that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community. “