Millions of elementary-aged children around the country are now eligible to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Tuesday gave the final OK for children ages 5-11, and pediatricians’ offices, pharmacies, hospitals, schools and clinics were set to begin distributing shots later that day.
Walgreens planned to commence kids’ vaccinations on Saturday and said parents could sign up online or by calling 1-800-Walgreens and CVS was also accepting appointments for vaccinations at select pharmacies starting on Sunday.
“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19,” Walensky said in a statement. “We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine. As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”
The endorsement vote comes after a special federal advisory committee met to debate the issue.
FILE: This October 2021, photo provided by Pfizer shows kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Puurs, Belgium. (Pfizer via AP )
President Biden weighed in on the decision, calling it a “major step forward for our nation in our fight to defeat the virus.”
“Today, we have reached a turning point in our battle against COVID-19: authorization of a safe, effective vaccine for children age 5 to 11,” the president said in a statement. “It will parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others.”
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use for kid doses, which are about one-third of the dose given to adolescents and adults. The vaccine is already approved for emergency use in children 12-15 years old.
COVID-19 VACCINE FOR CHILDREN HAS BEEN PACKED AND SHIPPED
Tuesday’s move means that as many as 28 million more children could be eligible for vaccinations as soon as this week.
Only Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are available thus far for adolescents, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccines are still being tested.
At the end of October, the FDA affirmed results from Pfizer showing that its two-dose shot was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in young children.
Leah Lefkove, 9, covers her face as her dad Dr. Ben Lefkove gives her the first COVID-19 vaccine at the Viral Solutions vaccination and testing site in Decatur, Ga., on the first day COVID-19 vaccinations were available for children from 5 to 12 on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
Over the weekend, the Biden administration began the process of packing and shipping out millions of pediatric vaccine doses specifically designed for younger children.
“We are not waiting on the operations and logistics,” White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said earlier Tuesday, assuring that the administration is “in great shape on supply.”
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Zients said that the administration had started preparation after the FDA’s authorization. Workers at Pfizer and distribution centers then began to prepare and pack 15 million doses.
“More doses will be packed and shipped and delivered,” he added. “More and more vaccine will come on line as we ramp up.”
Pfizer said it expects to make 19,000 shipments, or about 11 million doses, in the next several days. Millions more will be available to order on a weekly basis.
Leah Lefkove, 9, shows off her vaccination sticker just before being the first child to be vaccinated at the Viral Solutions vaccination and testing site in Decatur, Ga., on the first day COVID-19 vaccinations were available for children from 5 to 12 on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)
Walensky has also stressed that Pfizer/BioNTech clinical trials of the vaccine for children have found it to be highly effective in preventing serious disease with no severe side effects – though children are less likely to suffer severe COVID-19 infections.
With the delta variant, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said kids get infected and transmit “just as readily as adults do.”
Since the pandemic began, at least 94 children have died from COVID-19, more than 8,300 have been hospitalized and over 5,000 have developed a serious inflammatory condition linked to COVID-19. Black and Latino children, as well as those with chronic conditions, are disproportionately affected by the virus.
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“There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year,” Walensky said. “Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.