After more than 18 months of illness, hospitalizations, fatalities, and delayed education, the United States enters a new phase in its COVID-19 immunization campaign on Wednesday, with doses now available to millions of elementary-age children in what health authorities hailed as a tremendous breakthrough.
After the final OK from the federal government late Tuesday, physicians’ offices, pharmacies, hospitals, schools, and health clinics were ready to start giving the injections to the country’s 28 million children aged 5 to 11.
“This isn’t going to be like ‘The Hunger Games,'” Chicago’s public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, said, alluding to the tumultuous early nationwide rollout of adult immunizations almost a year ago. In the first week, Chicago planned to have almost enough vaccination for nearly half of its 210,000 school-aged children, with many more doses available later.
“Our objective is to be prepared and have a smooth launch,” said Arwady.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children overcame two last barriers on Tuesday: a recommendation from CDC experts and approval from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sleepovers, playdates, and family get-togethers that had been postponed for more than a year will be on the horizon for many children, as will the possibility of fewer school disruptions as a result of the activities.
“There are kids in second grade who have never had a regular school year,” Walensky added. “Vaccination for children has the potential to revolutionize all of that.”
Thousands of pediatricians pre-ordered tablets, and Pfizer began shipping them shortly after the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency usage on Friday. In the next days, Pfizer aims to dispatch 19,000 shipments totaling around 11 million doses, with millions more accessible to buy on a monthly basis.
Two doses, three weeks apart, plus two additional weeks for full protection, are required for the vaccine, which is one-third the dosage given to older children and adults and delivered using kid-sized needles. That implies that youngsters who get immunized before Thanksgiving will be protected until Christmas.
Dr. Jennifer Shu, a physician in Decatur, Georgia, who got her first shipment Tuesday morning, stated, “This is a major milestone for 5- to 11-year-olds since they make up roughly 40% of children under 18.”
“It’s quite good because it’s right before the winter break,” she remarked. “This age group will be able to spend the holidays with friends and family in a more secure manner than they have been able to do since the pandemic began.”
Kathy Zordan, a 44-year-old insurance auditor from Morton Grove, Illinois, said she was “overjoyed” for her 5-year-old kindergartner Liam.
‘Mommy got two shots, Daddy got two shots,’ I informed him. This is why so many people wear masks. Hopefully, we won’t have to wear the mask indefinitely. ‘You’re going to get the shots,’ says the narrator.
“Every day he goes to school, he’s in a room with hundreds of other kids, and I want him to be safe,” Zordan continued.
Several places have scheduled mass immunization sessions in the next days. While many physicians’ clinics anticipated high demand at first, over two-thirds of parents questioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated they would either delay or not seek immunizations for their children.
Hannah Hause, a Colorado mother of four children aged two, five, seven, and eight, is one of those who isn’t in a hurry. She’s been vaccinated, but she’d want additional time to observe how the kid vaccinations work and are examined in a bigger group of children.
“It’s not a long-term study.” It just makes me worried since my children are my entire world,” she explained.
“I’ll wait as long as I can,” she stated.
Pediatricians and family doctors, whom parents rely on for routine kid immunizations, might assist create confidence, according to government officials.
Dr. Ada Stewart, a Black family physician in Columbia, South Carolina, works in a clinic for impoverished patients where she has been administering COVID-19 doses to grandparents, parents, and teenagers, and she says she’s ready to expand the program to include younger children. She’s witnessed the virus’s toll on them, not just in terms of family illness and death, but also in terms of school interruptions, dropping grades, and emotional anguish.
According to statistics given Tuesday to CDC advisers, school cancellations have disproportionately impacted children of color throughout the epidemic, expanding academic disparities and harming mental health. More than 2,000 COVID-related school closures were reported in the first two months of the current school year, according to the statistics. Vaccinating school-aged children, according to proponents, will lessen these disturbances.
However, Stewart believes that demand for children’s vaccinations would be mixed.
“I’ve seen the complete spectrum,” from parents eager to have their children vaccinated to others who are more cautious “because of a history of mistrust in the medical community,” said Stewart, former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
“Vaccines work, they’re safe, they’re effective, and they save lives,” she remarked, addressing both groups. “The more people, especially our children, who get vaccinated, the sooner we will be able to get out of this pandemic.”
The vaccine was reported to be about 91 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections in a Pfizer research of 2,268 children. The vaccines were found to be safe after the FDA assessed 3,100 immunized children.
Some doubters argue that children should not be vaccinated since they are less likely than adults to develop severe COVID-19. They get infected and transmit “just as quickly as adults do” with the delta form, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who spoke at a recent White House briefing.
At least 94 children aged 5 to 11 have died as a result of COVID-19, more than 8,300 have been hospitalized, and more than 5,000 have acquired a dangerous inflammatory illness connected to the coronavirus since the epidemic began. Black and Latino children, as well as those with chronic illnesses, are among the most vulnerable.
While some health officials argue that minorities should be overrepresented in COVID-19 vaccination research since they are disproportionately impacted by the virus, Pfizer’s study found that almost 80% of the children were white. Young people of color made up 6%, Latinos 21%, Asians 6%, and American Indians or Alaska or Hawaii natives made up less than 1%.
Infected children are responsible for almost 46 million illnesses and more than 740,000 deaths in the United States.
Being a part of the nation’s first COVID-19 immunization program “makes us proud,” said Lindsay Whelan, a nurse-administrator who helped arrange the launch of kids’ injections at Children’s Physicians clinics in the Omaha, Nebraska, region.
Only one of her six boys, her 4-year-old, will remain unvaccinated after this current round of vaccinations. Pfizer and Moderna are researching injections in children that age and younger, with findings expected by the end of the year, according to Pfizer.
The injections are necessary “to safeguard them all, bring everyone back to normal, and provide community security,” according to Whelan.