ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM/AP) – As the battle against COVID-19 intensifies, the focus is now on school-aged children who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, as they make up a significant portion of new cases. In December 2020, pediatric COVID cases made up 12 percent of new infections, whereas last week pediatric cases were a quarter of new positives. 28 million children may be eligible to rill up their sleeves before the holiday season.
The White House is outlining a new plan to quickly gather, ship, and distribute vaccines. Federal regulators will meet over the next two weeks to weigh the safety and effectiveness of giving low-dose shots to the roughly 28 million children in that age group.
Within hours of the formal approval, which is expected after the Food and Drug Administration signs off and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel meets on Nov. 2-3, millions of doses will begin going out to providers across the country, along with the smaller needles needed for injecting young children. Within days of that, the vaccine will be ready to go into arms on a wide scale.
Now, local health departments, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and schools are placing their orders from State Departments of Health.
“I am in the process right now of trying to determine how much to order,” Darlene Smith, Steuben County Health Director, told 18 News.
The new vaccine dose is smaller than what was given to adults and different supplies will be needed, too. Smaller needles as well as other injection materials will be used to accommodate smaller bodies.
“It’s the same exact safe vaccine that we gave to children ages 12 through 17 and then adults ages 18 and above, however, it’s going to be in a slightly smaller concentration,” Sarah Mattison, Chemung County Deputy Health Director, said.
“One of the main pushes by the federal government right now is to ship things out in smaller batches and that’s going to allow pharmacies and doctors’ offices to be able to take on the administration of the vaccine,” Mattison added.
The change in distribution is a new tactic created by the government. Mass clinics are a thing of the past and now vaccines will be given on a more individualized basis, similar to the flu vaccine. Health providers are hoping this is a one-stop-shop for parents to get their kids immunized against both COVID-19 and flu. Also, supply and demand have significantly changed from the early days of vaccine distribution, forcing officials to go back to the drawing board.
The Biden administration noted that the expansion of shots to children under 12 will not look like the start of the country’s vaccine rollout 10 months ago when limited doses and inadequate capacity meant a painstaking wait for many Americans.
The country now has ample supplies of the Pfizer shot to vaccinate the children who will soon be eligible, officials said, and they have been working for months to ensure the widespread availability of shots. About 15 million doses will be shipped to providers across the U.S. in the first week after approval, the White House said.
More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers have already signed on to dispense the vaccine to elementary school children, the White House said, in addition to the tens of thousands of drugstores that are already administering shots to adults.
Hundreds of school- and community-based clinics will also be funded and supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help speed the process.
In addition to doctors’ offices, schools are likely to be popular spots for the shots.
“The demand then was really high and supply was really low. Exactly the opposite is happening now. Supply is high and demand is yet to be seen,” Smith continued.
The White House is also preparing a stepped-up campaign to educate parents and children about the safety of the shots and the ease of getting them. As has been the case for adult vaccinations, the administration believes trusted messengers — educators, doctors, and community leaders — will be vital to encouraging vaccinations.
While children run a lower risk than older people of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, at least 637 people age 18 or under have died from the virus in the U.S., according to the CDC. Six million U.S. children have been infected, 1 million of them since early September amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Health officials believe that expanding the vaccine drive will not only curb the alarming number of infections in children but also reduce the spread of the virus to vulnerable adults. It could also help schools stay open and youngsters get back on track academically and contribute to the nation’s broader recovery from the pandemic.
The U.S. has purchased 65 million doses of the Pfizer pediatric shot, which is expected to be one-third the dose is given to adults and adolescents, according to officials. They will be shipped in smaller packages of about 100 doses each so that more providers can deliver them, and they won’t require the super-cold storage that the adult version did at first.
About 219 million Americans age 12 and up, or 66% of the total population, have received a COVID-19 shot, and nearly 190 million are fully vaccinated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.