Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images
Within minutes of the Food and Drug Administration’s decision on Friday to approve the lower-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, teams began packaging the vaccines to be shipped. The vials are packed with syringes, dry ice and tracking labels and loaded into shipping containers specially designed for the pediatric vaccine.
However, a senior White House official warns parents shouldn’t expect to have their children vaccinated the next day if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending the vaccine, as is expected Tuesday. Patience may be required as recordings can take several days to become available.
“We’re talking about a special vaccine for children,” said Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, in an exclusive interview with MediaFrolic. “We’re working hard to plan the logistics and make sure vaccines are available in tens of thousands of locations that parents and children know and trust.”
The process is not as straightforward as opening appointments at pharmacies, as it was in the past few weeks when adult boosters were approved. Younger children receive a smaller dose through smaller needles for smaller arms. It’s a different formulation, in a different packaging – a new program for a new population that requires more sensitivity.
“We urge parents to prepare and come up with a plan, and the program will be fully operational by the week of November 8th,” Zients said.
Last week the administration urged states, pharmacies and pediatricians to place orders for vaccine doses, and the administration and Pfizer are now working on pre-ordering the supplies.
“Our goal is to have as much vaccine prepositioned as possible while we wait for the CDC’s decision in the middle of next week,” said Zients.
Zients said vaccines ship to 20,000 locations across the US and the process of packing and shipping will take time. He said pending the CDC’s decision, parents should be able to start looking for dates by the end of next week (locations that offer vaccines for children are listed on Vakzinen.gov).
“While we hope the first children will be vaccinated by the end of next week, the bulk of the vaccines will be in their locations by November 8,” said Zients. “In between, the program will develop its full strength.”
There are 28 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States, and the White House is starting to distribute 15 million doses of vaccine, with more to come. It has enough doses to vaccinate every eligible child in the country, though it doesn’t expect any of them to roll up their sleeves.
While some parents will struggle to vaccinate their elementary school age children as soon as possible, the Biden government understands that many have other questions or don’t want to leave first. Zients says the government will launch a paid advertising campaign and efforts to spread the word through trusted local leaders and doctors and high profile nationally known figures.
The FDA granted the Pfizer vaccine emergency approval for children ages 5 to 11, based on a study of approximately 4,700 children. The vaccine was found to be safe and 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic diseases.
An important part of the Biden government’s plan to vaccinate children is getting vaccines to places where parents are already bringing their children to health care: pediatricians, family doctors, children’s hospitals, and neighborhood pharmacies. There will also be pop-up and mobile clinics, and eventually school-based clinics, on evenings or weekends when the families are free.
For pediatrician Nicole Baldwin, this moment is both exciting and frightening. “We love these children and we want to vaccinate them,” she said, adding that a pediatrician’s office will be a familiar place for young patients who are already coming for wells and other childhood vaccinations.
“The pediatrician offices are so cramped and overwhelmed right now,” said Baldwin, who practices in Ohio. “How do we get these patients in? How do we do these clinics? How do we have the time to document all of this? I think that needs to be recognized and paediatricians need a little grace. “
MediaFrolic’s Allison Aubrey contributed to this story.