The long-awaited drive to inoculate 28 million children against Covid-19 could begin on Nov. 4, medical experts tell Rolling Stone. Pfizer has 15 million children’s shots—which contain one-third of the dose given to adults and kids 12 and over—ready to ship to private practices, hospitals, pharmacies and other providers across the country the moment the FDA approves the vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11.
An FDA advisory panel voted unanimously on Oct. 27 to recommend approval, and experts expect that agency’s official decision to follow quickly. Many health providers should have doses on hand before the CDC’s final approval of the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, which is expected after an advisory committee meeting on Nov. 2 and 3.
“November 4 would be the soonest day, and yes, we’re planning for it,” says Dr. Ania Wajnberg, medical director, ambulatory operations, at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. “We’ll be ready to go, assuming all goes well.”
Unlike the initial roll-out for adults, mass vaccination sites won’t be part of the effort to vaccinate kids. Changes in vaccine delivery since earlier this year, including smaller package sizes and confirmation that doses can stay safe in ordinary refrigerators for ten weeks, are enabling doctors’ private practices to deliver the vaccine. Children’s hospitals, federally qualified health centers in rural areas, and drugstores including the Walgreens and CVS chains will also be offering doses.
“Should CDC move forward with their recommendation, we’re operationally ready to hit the ground running,” says a White House official who asked for anonymity because she was only authorized to speak on background.
Immediately after the advisory panel’s vote, one state, Utah, announced that they expect shipments of children’s doses to begin on Oct. 29. “The federal government has told us they have adequate stock in hand, and they’ll begin moving that out so facilities can be ready as soon as it’s approved,” says Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. As with adults and older kids, the younger group will require two doses of the vaccine, three weeks apart.
Wealthy areas in big cities may initially be ready to deliver vaccines to kids before some rural areas and under-served city areas, says Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health & HIV policy at the health nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. Kates is confident that any lag will be “short-lived,” and the White House says it is working closely with the states to make sure that the vaccine supply is available to providers in rural and low-income areas.
More than 25,000 pediatric offices across the country have enrolled to deliver the vaccine to kids, according to the White House. Plescia says he’s heard concerns that not enough doctors’ offices in “southeast states” have agreed to deliver vaccines. Understaffing is an issue, he says, “and then we’ve heard… that in some areas, where the whole Covid issue has been very contentious, there’s providers concerned there may be public pushback if they offer the vaccine in their practice, and people might demonstrate at their office and things like that.”
The Biden White House said is convinced those concerns are overblown. “We’re identifying those communities that are at highest risk and providing them with full support,” the official says.
“We have federal pharmacy partners across the country, who are ready to go; we have community health centers in rural health clinics who are ready to go.”
Roughly one-third of parents of kids ages 5 to 11 are “eager” to get their children vaccinated quickly, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s polling. So as with adults, after the immediate demand is met, the challenge will turn to convincing the rest of the populace to sign on.
“We’re really focused on building public confidence,” the White House official says. “And we know that there are many parents out there that have lots of questions and want to get those questions answered. And so we’ll be sharing updates in the coming weeks on our plans to make sure we’re reaching parents with… science-based information, culturally competent materials, working with trusted messengers, to reach them.”
COVID-19 only rarely causes serious illness in children, but 94 children between the ages of 5 to 11 have died from the virus since January 2020, CDC medical officer Fiona Havers told the FDA advisory panel. She added that at least 5,200 kids have been diagnosed with MIS-C, Covid-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and that some children do experience the extended symptoms known as long COVID.