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Pediatricians will be the go-to source for COVID-19 vaccines and accurate information, under a plan for vaccinating children announced by the White House Wednesday.
The plan depends on health officials authorizing the vaccine for children ages 5-11 years, which could happen within weeks.
“Parents trust us to care for their children, come to us with questions and concerns about how to keep them healthy and safe, and will turn to us during this next phase for reassurance and guidance about the COVID-19 vaccine,” AAP President Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, said in a statement commending the White House plan. “We are ready to do what we’ve always done: counsel our families and protect our patients.”
The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 26 to discuss emergency use authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) vaccine committee is scheduled to meet Nov. 2-3.
If authorized, the vaccines will be “easy, convenient and accessible to every family,” Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said during a press conference Wednesday.
“Kids have different needs than adults, and our operational planning is geared to meet those specific needs including by offering vaccinations in settings that parents and kids are familiar with and trust,” he said.
More than 25,000 pediatricians’ offices and other primary care doctors have enrolled to be vaccinators. The administration is working with children’s hospitals to set up vaccination sites in their communities, under the White House plan. In addition, state and local education leaders will bring vaccination clinics to schools. Pharmacies and community and rural health clinics also will help vaccinate children.
The AAP has resources to help pediatricians sign up to be COVID-19 vaccinators and to prepare their practices. Pediatricians can reach out to their state immunization managers to request vaccines for their practices. They also are urged to contact their AAP chapters for assistance.
“We look forward to working with the Administration to ensure as many pediatricians as possible can administer the vaccine without barriers, and we will collaborate with our chapters to ensure that every state prioritizes pediatricians front and center in their vaccine distribution plans,” Dr. Beers said.
The pediatric Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will be a different concentration than the adult version, and children will receive a lower dose. The pediatric vaccine will come in 10-dose vials in cartons of 10 vials each. The vials will be different than those for the adolescent and adult vaccine. The pediatric vaccine can be stored for up to 10 weeks at standard refrigeration temperatures.
President Joe Biden’s administration says it has enough supply for the nation’s 28 million children ages 5-11 years. If authorized, 15 million doses will be shipped nationwide within days, according to Zients.
Federal officials are launching a national public education campaign to encourage vaccination and combat misinformation. They are partnering with the AAP, other doctors, educators, faith leaders, parents and organizations.
“We are all hoping this process will culminate with the option to vaccinate our children ages 5-11 and if that option becomes available, we will be ready to ensure that everyone has the information and access they need to protect their families,” said Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A.
Nearly 6.2 million children have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data from the AAP and the Children’s Hospital Association. In the week ending Oct. 14, there were more than 131,000 new pediatric cases, and children made up about one-quarter of all new cases. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 65,000 children have been hospitalized and 718 children have died, according to the CDC.
The pandemic also has taken a toll on children’s mental health, prompting the AAP, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association to declare a national emergency in children’s mental health earlier this week.
About 47% of 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, according to an AAP report. The CDC released a study Tuesday showing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 93% effective in preventing COVID-19 hospitalization in teens.
Anthony Fauci, M.D., Biden’s chief medical adviser, cited new data during a press conference Wednesday showing that children have been getting infected and transmitting the virus as easily as adults while the delta variant has been predominant.
“If we can get the overwhelming majority of those 28 million children vaccinated, I think that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community,” he said.