By Jacqueline Howard, CNN
As soon as the US Food and Drug Administration authorizes the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 in the United States, pediatricians’ offices, local pharmacies and even some schools will be ready to help get those first doses into young arms.
Vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech announced on Thursday that they have officially submitted a request to the FDA for the emergency use authorization of their Covid-19 vaccine for young children ages 5 to 11. The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet later this month to discuss the Pfizer data.
If the committee recommends the shot and FDA OKs it, a panel of CDC vaccine advisers will meet to consider whether to recommend its use in this age group. Once the CDC signs off, administration could begin as soon as supplies of the child-sized doses are in pediatricians offices and other sites. That could come at the end of October or by early November.
When adults began getting Covid-19 vaccines, many got their shots through nursing homes or mass vaccination sites.
Then for adolescents ages 12 to 15, many doses were administered at pharmacies and doctors’ offices. That’s likely to be the case with younger children, too, and with kids now back in class, schools may play a larger role this time.
Pediatricians, pharmacies, schools could give shots
As part of the planning for who will administer Covid-19 shots for young children, “we’re trying to get pediatricians enrolled and that’s a major strategy,” Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers, told CNN.
Yet pediatricians who are enrolled may not receive vaccine doses immediately when the vaccine is authorized. For some, it could take time to receive shipments of the vaccine.
During a call with the Association of Immunization Managers on Wednesday, Pfizer representatives said there will be “sufficient” supply of vaccine for a potential rollout for ages 5 to 11, Hannan said.
“It’s good news that it won’t be limited supply. It’s certainly not the situation that we were dealing with last year for the adults,” Hannan said. But, “sufficient supply doesn’t necessarily mean that every provider who orders vaccine gets the shipment in the first week.”
Hypothetically, providers could start giving Covid-19 shots to children ages 5 to 11 immediately after the FDA authorizes doing so — which occurred when vaccines were authorized for older kids — but that still would depend on which providers’ orders for vaccine are filled first and how quickly those providers receive shipments of the doses.
The vaccine that Pfizer tested in children is the same as the one used in adults, but a smaller dose — 10 micrograms, rather than 30 micrograms. The vaccine is expected to be shipped in packages of 100 doses, which is much smaller than the packages of 1,170 doses used for the adult vaccines.
“The fact that they’re moving to smaller packaging and smaller shipping amounts is really great news,” Hannan said, as it will be easier for pediatricians’ offices to store and manage 100 doses versus a thousand.
Other sites expected to receive shipments will be pharmacies.
“The pharmacies are enrolled already as Covid-19 vaccine providers. They’ve been providing vaccine for adults and adolescents. They know how to store and handle and give the vaccine,” Hannan said.
“And then, additionally, there will be schools — having school-based clinics and school-located clinics to give the vaccine. Those do require a lot of planning, and we don’t necessarily have all the information we need right now about the vaccine, but those are the things that are being talked about right now.”
What parents can do to prepare
For now, Hannan said that parents can contact their pediatricians’ offices to ask whether they plan on providing the Covid-19 vaccine for ages 5 to 11.
If they do plan to offer the vaccine, parents can prepare now to make appointments for their younger children once the vaccine is authorized.
“There’s probably, I’m just ballparking, between 50% and 75% of pediatricians are enrolled” to administer the vaccine to young children, Hannan said. “So, some of them are planning to do this, and some of them may not be and could tell you now.”
If a pediatrician’s office does not plan to vaccinate kids 5 to 11, parents can plan to take their children to a local pharmacy instead or a nearby vaccine clinic.
Schools also have been discussed as potential vaccination sites, Dr. Krupa Playforth, a board-certified pediatrician in Alexandria, Virginia, and mother of three, told CNN.
“I don’t know how easy that is — but that might be a good way to get more children vaccinated,” she said. “The process will involve steps like getting consent from parents and ensuring equitable access, and doing it through school might be a good way to circumvent logistical issues like requiring parents to take time off work.”
Virginia plans to partner with public schools to help rollout Covid-19 vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11.
“The easiest and most equitable way to deliver the Covid vaccine is at school, to have the health department come in and give the shots. So, our teams are working with school divisions and superintendents to do that wherever possible,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said during a Covid-19 news briefing last week.
“I can’t yet tell you the specifics, because the plans are still in formation and nothing will happen before the FDA approval comes,” said Northam, who is himself a father and pediatrician. “But planning is underway. When the time comes, we’ll be ready.”
‘A lot of parents really wish that things would just move quickly’
How quickly Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out for ages 5 to 11 could depend on how much vaccine supply will be available and how many vaccine administers will be staffed to provide the shots.
“With flu season starting up and then all of the holidays coming up, I think a lot of parents really wish that things would just move quickly,” Playforth said.
If supply, staffing or both are low, the rollout could be phased, with the most vulnerable children eligible to receive the vaccine first.
“I think the vaccine availability is probably going to be there and my hope is that everybody’s getting geared up now because they’re anticipating the manpower that’s needed to administer the vaccines,” Playforth said.
“But it also depends on demand,” she said. “So it’s possible that in certain areas it might have to be phased, just because there may be areas of the country where it’s easier to get a vaccine than others.”
Playforth plans to register her 6-year-old daughter to receive a Covid-19 shot once the vaccine is authorized for ages 5 to 11. Since Playforth’s two other children will be too young to receive the vaccine, at only three months and 3 years old, Playforth said that getting her daughter vaccinated will help protect her younger kids from the risks of Covid-19 as well.
“If she’s vaccinated, she’s less likely to bring Covid home to my 3-month-old,” Playforth said. “Obviously I want to read the FDA report and look at the data a little bit, but at this time I don’t have any concerns. I think vaccination is the most important thing that we can do to help move ourselves out of this moment and protect our families and communities.”
No one knows exactly when that FDA authorization for ages 5 to 11 will come, but Playforth said that she doubts her 6-year-old daughter will be fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving.
It’s more likely she will be by the winter holidays — which means that the Playforth family possibly might consider traveling to see loved ones, which they haven’t done throughout the pandemic.
“For Thanksgiving, our plan is to stay home,” Playforth said. “Now for the Christmas holidays, the situation may be totally different and I’m hoping that we’ll have a lot more flexibility to travel, but it just depends.”
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