WASHINGTON - The program to vaccinate children between 5 and 11 years old is expected to be at full strength next week, according to the White House.
"Starting the week of November 8, the kids’ vaccination program will be fully up and running," White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday. "Parents will be able to schedule appointments at convenient sites they know and trust to get their kids vaccinated."
"And the number of sites will continue to increase throughout the month as more vaccine sites open their doors and administer the vaccines," he added.
On Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make more detailed recommendations on which youngsters should get vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with a final decision by the agency’s director expected shortly afterward. Once the CDC issues its ruling, eligible kids will get two shots, three weeks apart.
The Food and Drug Administration last week paved the way for children ages 5 to 11 to get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA cleared kid-size doses — just a third of the amount given to teens and adults — for emergency use, and up to 28 million more American children could be eligible for vaccinations as early as next week.
With FDA’s action, Pfizer plans to begin shipping millions of vials of the pediatric vaccine — in orange caps to avoid mix-ups with the purple-capped doses for everyone else — to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other vaccination sites.
While children are at lower risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 than older people, 5- to 11-year-olds still have been seriously affected -- including over 8,300 hospitalizations, about a third requiring intensive care. The FDA said 146 deaths have been reported in that age group.
And with the extra-contagious delta variant circulating, the government has counted more than 2,000 coronavirus-related school closings just since the start of the school year, affecting more than a million children.
Nearly 70% of 5- to 11-year-olds hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. have other serious medical conditions, including asthma and obesity, according to federal tracking. Additionally, more than two-thirds of youngsters hospitalized are Black or Hispanic, mirroring long-standing disparities in the disease’s impact.
A Pfizer study of 2,268 schoolchildren found the vaccine was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections, based on 16 cases of COVID-19 among kids given dummy shots compared to just three who got vaccinated.
The FDA ultimately assessed more children — 3,100 — who received the kid dosage to conclude it was safe. Youngsters experienced similar or fewer temporary reactions — such as sore arms, fever or achiness — that teens experience.
But the study wasn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second full-strength dose, mostly in young men and teen boys. It’s unclear if younger children getting a smaller dose also will face that rare risk. FDA pledged last week to keep a close watch.
Meanwhile, some parents are expected to vaccinate their children ahead of family holiday gatherings and the winter cold season.
But a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey suggests most parents won’t rush to get the shots. About 25% of parents polled earlier this month said they would get their children vaccinated "right away." But the remaining majority of parents were roughly split between those who said they will wait to see how the vaccine performs and those who said they "definitely" won’t have their children vaccinated.
The similarly made Moderna vaccine also is being studied in young children, and both Pfizer and Moderna also are testing shots for babies and preschoolers. A decision on the authorization of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 12 to 17 has been delayed while U.S. regulators continue to study the rare risk of heart inflammation, the company said Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.