The much-anticipated approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for young children could come soon as this week, and plans are underway for a rollout in Illinois and the Chicago area.
The Food and Drug Administration on Friday granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to- 11-year-olds. On Nov. 2-3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent advisory committee is also expected to recommend the vaccine for children. Shots could begin soon after.
On Oct 25, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said he is expecting plentiful supply to vaccine the 1.1 million newly eligible children in the state. He said Illinois is anticipating 500,000 doses in its initial allocation and more than 2,200 providers and locations statewide have signed up to administer the shots. This includes more than 700 pediatrician and family practice offices. Chicago is expecting nearly 100,000 initial doses.
“This is a game changer for our district,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez said on Oct. 26
Pritzker doesn’t think everyone can get fully vaccinated before Thanksgiving, but most children can at least get their first dose. “Parents who want to make sure that their kids are vaccinated before Christmas, there is time to do that.” Pritzker said. “You can get both doses in.”
Local pediatricians and health departments are gearing up, particularly to address concerns from parents. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in September shows that only 34% of parents plan to get their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated “right away,” while 24% said they definitely will not get their children vaccinated.
Dr. Nina Alfieri says it’s natural for parents to be nervous about giving a new medication to their children. She and other pediatricians are working to dispel any misinformation.
“After living this pandemic for 18 months, all of us pediatricians really do feel that kids have been very deeply affected by the pandemic, and that vaccination is the key to helping us move forward and protect kids from a physical and mental health and routine standpoint,” said Dr. Alfieri, a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital Chicago and an instructor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
FDA scientists concluded that the vaccine’s benefit for preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 would outweigh any serious potential side effects in children 5- to 11-years-old. Pfizer and BioNTech’s research showed that the vaccine appeared to be more than 90% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 in its main clinical trial and no new safety problems were identified.
When will shots be available?
Doctors expect to begin getting shots in little arms starting the first or second week of November. This would be within a few days of final approval by the CDC.
The White House says it has ordered enough supplies to vaccinate the country’s 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds. Pritzker said Illinois’ allocation will go to the more than 2,200 providers who have signed up to administer the shots. This includes a base of 306,000 doses, with an additional 73,000 doses for Chicago, and more than 100,000 additional doses for pharmacies that partner with the federal government.
Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said supply will be plentiful. “This is not going to be the Hunger Games,” she said last week. Arwady said there are an estimated 210,448 children between 5 and 11 years old in Chicago. She said the city is tentatively expecting an initial shipment of nearly 100,000 doses to arrive in Chicago during the first week of pediatric vaccinations.
Where will kids be able to get shots?
Sites are still being chosen, but Pritzker laid out what’s on the list of 2,200 providers and locations that have signed up.
It includes more than 700 pediatric and family medicine practices, more than 700 pharmacies, about 100 urgent care locations, 112 local health departments and public health clinics, 270 federally qualified health centers, more than 200 hospitals, and dozens of rural health clinics, according to the governor’s office.
In Chicago, Dr. Arwady is encouraging families to take their children to their pediatricians for the shot so parents can get their questions answered and also get other vaccinations. Shots also will be available at pharmacies as well as at hospital and community events, with a focus on larger events in the beginning. At-home appointments are expected to be available starting in mid-November.
Chicago Public Schools officials said they plan to offer shots to 5- to 11-year-olds at the four high schools where the school district is currently offering shots to older children and at mobile events at different schools. They also said they will roll out an aggressive marketing and promotional plan to encourage families to get their children vaccinated. The Chicago Teachers Union has been pushing for CPS to expand its number of vaccination sites.
State officials said they are trying to offer as many options for kids to get vaccinated since this age group is less mobile and to help parents and kids feel at ease.
“This is why we have our pediatric partners who will be a big part of this,” said Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Some people will only feel comfortable with getting it done at their pediatrician’s [office]…. Some people have been chomping at the bit and will go to the pharmacy on day one … Some people will be comfortable coming to this event, where there will be pediatricians on hand to answer questions.”
How are local pediatricians getting ready?
Alfieri says pediatricians are making orders for the vaccine and assembling the right storage for the vials.
“Having the right stuff and the right staff to safely and efficiently schedule, offer and document the vaccine is something we’re all working on,” she said.
Alfieri recently did a presentation for Illinois pediatricians who are getting ready to give the COVID-19 shots. She represented the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Illinois Department of Health. She also gives a monthly lecture to medical students on vaccine safety and how to counsel parents with accurate information on vaccines. She says getting out information and answering any questions is another big part of the preparation. She says parents should not hesitate to call a doctor if they have concerns.
What is the dosage for this age group?
The dosage for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is smaller for 5- to-11 year olds. Patients 12 and up receive 30 micrograms. Younger patients will receive 10 micrograms.
“This is not surprising because we know that younger children actually have a more robust immune response to vaccines,” said Alfieri. “They tend to produce more antibodies when exposed to the same amount of antigen or vaccine or illness.”
During vaccine trials, doctors compared antibody levels created by younger children after receiving the various doses, and they found that the 10 microgram dose in the younger children produced the same amount of neutralizing or COVID fighting antibodies as the 30 microgram dose did in older people. Alfieri anticipates the vaccine to be administered in two shots with a possibility of a booster later on.
Are there tips for kids who are scared of needles?
The younger age group may have the hardest time with needles. Alfieri says it’s best to be honest with children about what they’ll experience and why it’s important to get the vaccine.
“Another strategy is to say, ‘Yes, you are going to get a shot today. It will hurt but I’m going to be there with you the whole time,’” she said. “That’s really powerful.”
As a pediatrician, she tries not to promote a lot of sweets, but she says there’s nothing wrong with offering an incentive like ice cream. It might be the soothing balm kids need after a needle poke.