US health officials are setting the stage for a national Covid-19 vaccination campaign for younger children, inviting state officials to order doses before injections are authorized.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is currently being administered to people as young as 12 in the U.S. Over the next three weeks, federal officials plan to discuss the possibility of smaller-dose versions being available by age 28. million of the nation’s children between the ages of five and 11.
That would end a 10-month wait for many families anxiously awaiting approval of vaccines for younger children.
To help states and cities prepare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week released a seven-page document with guidance on establishing expanded vaccination programs.
It points out that pharmacies in all states can administer Covid-19 injections to children, but that only doses prepared and packaged specifically for children should be used for those under the age of 12.
However, it does not address some more thorny questions, such as to what extent school clinics should be trusted or whether children should be required to receive vaccines as a condition of attending school.
Those questions will need to be resolved in every state and city. The guide comes as communities are preparing for a new phase in the campaign to vaccinate as many people as possible against a virus that has killed more than 720,000 in the US.
The disease has been more dangerous for older adults, who have higher rates of death and hospitalization than children. But some children are at risk for serious illnesses, and more than 540 American children have died from Covid-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Just as important, health officials believe that vaccinating children will reduce the spread of the virus to vulnerable adults.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are leading the way in investigating the use of their vaccine in younger children. They say that a two-dose series of vaccines one-third more potent than the version given to people 12 years of age and older is safe and effective in children ages 5 to 11.
An independent expert panel of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is scheduled to discuss the safety and efficacy of vaccines at a meeting in late October. Your recommendation will guide whether the FDA decides to allow children’s vaccines to be used in an emergency. The FDA often follows the advice of its expert panels.
If the FDA authorizes the doses for children, another panel of independent experts advising the CDC will discuss the clinical issues in early November and then offer a recommendation to the CDC.
It’s not yet clear how many people will get vaccinations for their youngest children right away, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, medical director for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
“We will have a potentially very busy, and perhaps moderately chaotic time,” initially, he said. But there probably won’t be the kind of high demand that was seen when vaccines first became available to adults, he added.
Surveys suggest that about a third of parents whose children are in this age group said they would vaccinate their children “immediately,” according to a Kaiser Family Foundation Follow-up Survey. Authorities may face parents who are hesitant to vaccinate, some of whom may not vaccinate themselves.
In addition, the approval of vaccines for young children could open a new debate on whether schools should require vaccines for young children. Some major school districts, like Los Angeles, have already done it for kids 12 and older.
Almost 77% of people 12 years of age and older are vaccinated in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Comparatively, 95.5% of people in the highest risk age group, those over 65, are vaccinated.
The new CDC guidance requires that vaccines be administered in pediatric and family physician offices, and federally qualified pharmacies, rural health clinics and health centers.
The CDC discussed the option of school vaccination clinics, but fell short of endorsing it as a primary way to vaccinate children. School clinics are logistically attractive, but many parents may not be comfortable with the idea, Plescia said.
The guide also cautions healthcare providers to only use doses that have been specially prepared for children and not try to divide the doses for adults, Plescia noted.
The CDC guidance said immunization program managers can begin ordering the doses on Wednesday, although the vials would not be delivered until the FDA and CDC sign. The plan to vaccinate young children against Covid-19 is different from the initial vaccine launch, which initially focused on shipping vaccines to hospitals and pharmacies.
As a result, some doctors working in offices felt left out.
Dr. Jesse Hackell registered early in New York State so that he could administer the vaccines to the teens. He said his office, located 25 miles north of New York City, didn’t get a dose for it until May.
But Hackell said the CDC has reassured pediatricians that once clearance is obtained for children ages 5 to 11, the process will be easier and pediatrician offices will be able to receive shipments quickly.
Dr. Richard Besser called on the government to do more to address the racial and economic disparities that could arise in the push to vaccinate younger children.
For example, children may not receive immunizations if parents cannot take time off from work to bring them.
“It’s really important that we recognize the barriers to vaccines,” said Besser, executive director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the CDC.
AP medical writer Lindsey Tanner contributed to this report from Three Oaks, Michigan.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism