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Biden administration unveils plan to roll out vaccines for kids 5-11

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it has secured enough shots to vaccinate all 28 million children who would become eligible if the FDA grants emergency use authorization to the shots. It also would equip 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of community health centers and rural health clinics, and tens of thousands of pharmacies to administer the vaccine. 

The doses — along with smaller needles for injecting kids — would begin shipping to providers within hours of CDC approval in early November.

“Today the Biden Administration is announcing a plan to ensure that, if a vaccine is authorized for children ages 5-11, it is quickly distributed and made conveniently and equitably available to families across the country,” the White House said in a news release.

The federal government also is planning to make the vaccine available at hundreds of schools and community-based sites, as well as at children’s hospitals. 

It also would launch a public education campaign “to reach parents and guardians with accurate and culturally responsive information about the vaccine and the risks that COVID-19 poses to children,” the White House said. As it has with adults, the White House believes trusted messengers such as educators, doctors and community leaders will be key in encouraging vaccinations.

Federal health officials are expected to discuss the plans in greater detail during a news briefing Wednesday morning.

Last month, Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, formally requested emergency use authorization for their vaccine to be administered 5- to 11-year-olds. If approved, the vaccine would be the first to be available to children under 12 in the U.S.

The companies say their clinical trial has shown that a lower dosage of the vaccine in that age group — about a third of what is administered to adults — generates antibody levels just as strong as in teenagers and young adults after the second dose.

Side effects — such as fever, achiness or sore arms — were similar to those observed in people ages 16-25.

An independent expert panel of advisers to the FDA will publicly discuss Pfizer’s data at an Oct. 26 meeting. Their nonbinding vote will then be considered when the agency makes it final decision. Emergency use authorization — different from full FDA approval — is given when officials believe a vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own committee of outside vaccine experts are then scheduled to meet Nov. 2-3. Its job is to recommend more specifics on administering the shots.

Children are at a lower risk than adults of developing severe COVID-19, but serious cases do occur, and youths can spread the virus to others.

Coronavirus hospitalizations among children surged this summer before hitting their highest point of the pandemic in early September, despite the availability of vaccines for those 12 and older. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 558 children have died of COVID-19 in the 45 states and two U.S. territories reporting data. In the week ending Oct. 14, more than 130,000 children were infected by the virus, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s new cases.

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