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Biden administration lays out its plan for Covid-19 vaccinations for children under 5

By Donald Judd and Betsy Klein, CNN

The White House has announced a highly anticipated Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan for children under 5.

The administration “has made 10 million vaccine doses available for states, Tribes, territories, community health centers, federal pharmacy partners, and others to pre-order,” according to a White House fact sheet shared with CNN Wednesday. It is partnering with those entities to ship and distribute vaccines across the country following next week’s meeting of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisers — who will review data on these vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna — and expected authorization from the full FDA.

The first vaccinations could start “as early as the week of June 20 —with the program ramping up over time as more doses are delivered and more appointments become available,” according to the fact sheet. CNN previously reported Covid-19 vaccination shots for the youngest Americans could begin as soon as June 21.

FDA vaccine advisers are scheduled to meet next week to discuss authorizing emergency use of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine for children 6 months through 5 years of age and Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children 6 months through 4 years of age, and pending those decisions, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make final recommendations about the vaccines.

The administration estimates that 85% of children under the age of 5 live within five miles of a potential vaccination site at this time, though they’re anticipating most parents seeking a vaccination for young children will do so at their pediatrician’s or primary care provider’s office.

According to a senior administration official, however, additional vaccine clinics and sites will be set up at easy-to-access locations for parents, including pharmacies, schools, children’s hospitals, diaper banks, community health centers, clinics, museums, libraries and organizations serving minority communities across the country.

Jurisdictions across the country have been able to pre-order Covid-19 vaccine doses for children under 5 since last week — in that time, of the initial 5 million doses available for pre-order pending FDA authorization, the administration has received requests for 2.3 million vaccine doses, including 1.45 million doses of Pfizer and 850,000 doses of Moderna.

Still, the official suggested they anticipate an uptick in orders over time.

“Our experience has been that people are slow to order, and this has been true across each of the times we’ve opened up ordering, so I wouldn’t focus on those early numbers,” the official told reporters on a call Wednesday. “Our experience is that the longer the ordering stays open, the more likely the states come forward, so some of this is a matter of letting them know the ordering is available, and that they can begin that process.”

To spread awareness, the administration will partner with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which it estimates serves over 6 million people in the US, including almost half of all infants; with Head Start Programs through the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services, which it estimates services approximately 1 million families; with Department of Housing and Urban Development programs, which it estimates serves more than 800,000 children under 5; and with Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which serves millions of children under 5, among others.

They’ll also partner with community organizations, including “What to Expect,” a platform serving mothers and expectant mothers, to author a series of blog posts to dispel vaccine misinformation.

Covid team warns of funding challenges

During Thursday’s Covid team briefing, the White House said that major reallocations made to US Covid-19 response resources in the absence of congressional funding would not affect the summer effort to vaccinate children under the age of five when those vaccines are recommended by the FDA and CDC.

“We do not have enough resources to have enough vaccines for every American for the next generation of vaccines. So the challenges are coming up in the fall. We need the money now. But the money we’re using for kids vaccines today is money that was appropriated previously by Congress,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator said.

As CNN has reported, the administration is reallocating roughly $10 billion in existing funding from current efforts on testing, personal protective equipment, and research and development toward more immediate needs. Of that funding, $5 billion will be reallocated to support the purchase of Covid-19 vaccine doses for this fall, $4.9 billion for 10 million courses of Pfizer’s antiviral drug Paxlovid, and $300 million for additional monoclonal antibody treatments.

Jha indicated the timing of Wednesday’s announcement ensured that the US could “be at the negotiating table” with vaccine manufacturers, reiterating, “We do not have enough resources to make sure that every American who wants one of the next generation of vaccines will be able to get one.”

“We needed to be at the negotiating table and waiting longer — waiting for Congress no longer felt like an acceptable option,” Jha said.

Jha called those decisions to reallocate “very painful,” telling CNN that the administration is aware that it is “taking resources away from what we think are vital programs to make sure that we’re at the table when it comes to purchasing the next generation of vaccines to make sure that we have enough therapeutics for Americans as we get into the fall and winter.”

The White House requested $22.5 billion in funding for the administration’s Covid-19 response — money to pay for vaccines, testing, and treatments — earlier this year. Negotiators had been able to reach a scaled-back agreement on a $10 billion package, but left Washington for the Easter recess without passing that bill. Congress remains entangled in disagreement on how to proceed.

Jha said he had been communicating those difficult choices and consequences to bipartisan members of both the House and Senate.

“I think members of Congress that I’ve been meeting with and speaking with understand the situation we’re in, so we’ve got to keep making this point clear,” Jha said amid the congressional stalemate.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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