Editor’s note: For the latest news on COVID-19, visit http://bit.ly/AAPNewsCOVID19.
A national panel of vaccine experts is recommending action to ensure COVID-19 vaccine access is equitable for all children once commercial distribution begins.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 15-0 to include COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 months to 18 years in the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. The program provides free vaccines for Medicaid-eligible, uninsured, underinsured and American Indian/Alaska Native children.
Wednesday’s vote paves the way for the CDC to start taking steps to award contracts for COVID vaccines. They will not be available in the VFC program until they transition from being distributed as part of the government’s COVID response to commercial distribution. The timing on that change has not been finalized.
José R. Romero, M.D., FAAP, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, stressed that including COVID vaccines in the VFC program does not impact school vaccination requirements.
“… this is not a policy change nor is it a mandate for the use of the vaccine,” Dr. Romero said. “It is a way to ensure access to this vaccine for those children that don’t have insurance.”
Children ages 6 months and older are eligible for a COVID vaccine primary series, but many have not been vaccinated. About 61% of adolescents ages 12-17 years, 32% of children ages 5-11 years, 3% of children ages 2-4 years and 2% of children under 2 years have completed their primary series, according to CDC data.
The AAP supports inclusion of COVID vaccines in the VFC program. In a letter to the White House COVID-19 response coordinator earlier this month, AAP President Moira A. Szilagyi, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP, noted the move would help raise vaccination rates as the program administers vaccines to nearly half of U.S. children.
“Having the ability to order COVID-19 vaccines through VFC will help pediatricians and other participating VFC providers order these vaccines in a similar fashion to other routine immunizations,” she wrote. “It is imperative, however, to relieve some of the administrative burden currently associated with administering COVID-19 vaccines and participating in the VFC program.”
She cited restrictions on storing public and private vaccines in the same refrigerator and having to refer uninsured children to a federally qualified health center or rural health clinic.
The AAP also is encouraging federal authorities to ensure adequate payment levels for VFC providers to administer COVID vaccines.
Dr. Szilagyi laid out numerous actions the administration could take to address these and other hurdles to COVID vaccine administration that pediatricians face.
“Simply put, the nation’s pediatricians need to be supported as we attempt to vaccinate our nation’s youngest citizens against COVID-19,” Dr. Szilagyi wrote. “If there are too many financial and practical disincentives for pediatric clinicians to purchase, stock and administer COVID-19 vaccines, we will fail to meet the challenge.”