NEW YORK (AP) – US health officials are setting the stage for a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign for young children, inviting state officials to order doses before shots are authorized.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is currently being offered to people under the age of 12 in the US. Over the next three weeks, federal officials are discussing making smaller-dose versions available for the country’s 28 million children between the ages of 5 and 11. planned to do.
To help states and cities prepare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week sent out a seven-page document with guidance on how to set up an expanded vaccination program.
For example, it notes that pharmacies in every state can give children the COVID-19 shot, but clarifies that only those formulated and packaged specifically for children under the age of 12 dosage to be used.
However, it does not address some of the more complex questions, such as how much school-based clinics should be trusted or whether children should be required to receive shots as a condition of school attendance.
Those questions will have to be worked out in every state and city.
The guidance comes as communities gear up for a new phase in a 10-month-old effort to vaccinate as many people as possible against the virus that has killed more than 720,000 people in the US.
The disease has been most dangerous for older adults, who have higher rates of death and hospitalization than children. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some children are at risk of serious illness, and more than 540 American children have died from COVID-19.
Equally important, health officials believe that vaccinating children will reduce the spread of the virus to vulnerable adults.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are at the forefront of research into the use of their vaccine in young children. They say a two-dose vaccine series — one-third as potent as the version given to people over the age of 12 — is safe and effective in children ages 5 to 11.
An independent expert panel advising the Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to publicly debate the evidence at a meeting in late October. If the FDA authorizes child-sized doses, a separate expert panel advising the CDC will take up the matter in early November, and then offer a recommendation to the CDC.
Dr Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said it was not yet clear how many people would receive the shot for their young children.
“We are potentially going to have a very busy, and probably moderately chaotic time” initially, he said.
But it probably won’t see the kind of huge demand when shots first became available to adults, he said.
New CDC guidance calls for shots at pediatricians’ and family-practice doctors’ offices, and in pharmacies, rural health clinics, and federally-qualified health centers.
The CDC discussed the option of vaccination clinics in schools, but stopped supporting it as the primary way to vaccinate children. School clinics are logistically appealing, but many parents may not be comfortable with the idea, Plesia said.
The guidance warns health care providers to only use doses that have been specifically formulated for children, and not try to reduce the adult dosage, Plesia said.
CDC guidance said vaccination program managers can begin ordering doses as early as Wednesday, although the vials will not be distributed until the FDA and CDC sign off.
When coronavirus vaccines were first authorized in December, the US government made it a priority for hospitals and pharmacies to administer them. Some office-based physicians felt left out.
Dr. Jesse Haeckel registered early with the state of New York to be able to administer the shots to teens. He said his office, located 25 miles north of New York City, didn’t receive a dose for it until May.
But Haeckel said the CDC has reassured pediatricians that once authorization is in place for children ages 5 to 11, the process will run more smoothly and pediatricians’ offices will be able to receive shipments quickly. Will be
Dr Richard Besser called on the government to do more to address the racial and economic inequalities that may push young children to be vaccinated.
For example, kids can’t get shots if parents don’t get time to get them in from work.
“It’s really important that we recognize the barriers to vaccination,” said Besser, chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former CDC executive director.
AP medical writer Lindsay Tanner contributed to this report from Three Oaks, Michigan.
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