In the coming weeks, millions of American children aged 5-11 will likely become part of an urgent vaccination program, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the days of the polio inoculations.
Officials have outlined a plan to roll out two doses of the Pfizer vaccine formulated for children in the coming weeks — provided that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves Pfizer’s safety and efficacy data.
“We need everyone onboard for the work ahead of us, because every parent should have the information and tools that they need to help keep their kids safe,” Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, said in a White House press briefing. “And that’s why we’re eagerly [awaiting] the FDA review of the data on children’s vaccines.”
Pfizer submitted their data to the FDA for approval in late September. The White House, anticipating its approval, announced their starting steps for the rollout on Wednesday.
“We will be ready to get shots in arms,” Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said of the rollout plans. “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.”
Part of meeting these different needs means that children in the U.S. won’t be lining up for mass vaccination clinics at hospitals, community centres and stadiums like adults did.
The plan is for vaccines for those under 12 to be handed out at more than 25,000 pediatric offices, along with pharmacies and in schools.
The government also stated that they will be working with more than 100 children’s hospitals across the country to set up vaccination sites starting in November.
Children will receive two injections three weeks apart, using smaller syringes and a lower dosage, about a third of what was used to immunize those 16-25 years of age. This adjusted formulation has been tested by Pfizer, and found to be safe while still producing neutralizing antibodies. This data is now being reviewed by regulatory authorities in the U.S.
The vaccines will also be shipped in smaller packages containing about 100 doses each, which can be stored for up to 10 weeks at standard refrigeration temperatures and for six months at ultracold temperatures.
Many doctors in Canada, where the Pfizer pediatric shots are also under review, are anxious to start this next phase of vaccination. Pfizer submitted its data to Health Canada at the start of the month.
“I can’t wait for my kids to get vaccinated,” Dr. Noah Ivers, Canada Research Chair in Implementation of Evidence-based Practice and a professor with the University of Toronto, told CTV News. “My kids can’t wait either, because they’re going to feel safer when they’re going to school, they’re going to feel safer when they’re on the hockey rink.”
Some provinces like Alberta are already taking registrations from parents to inoculate children in the future, and some Canadian officials say planning is already underway, and will likely follow the U.S. template of vaccinations at schools and through pharmacies.
It may also come with an added emphasis on a more playful approach, similar to how Cuba is tackling vaccination for children, with costumes and puppets playing a role in making children feel more comfortable.
“I think the planning is also in place to make sure that when we’re offering it to kids, we’re doing it in a kid-friendly way,” Ivers said. “That means maybe having child-life specialists available, whether that’s somebody doing magic tricks or showing videos, and that sort of thing.”
Young children are at lower risk of severe disease and hospitalization from COVID-19 than adults, according to health experts. But they also say that vaccinating the younger age groups will help boost herd immunity, and lower the chances of more waves of the pandemic.