WASHINGTON — Smaller needles. Redesigned shipments to ease the storage needs in pediatricians’ offices. And enough vials of the COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate the 28 million U.S. children between ages 5 and 11.
Those are among the plans announced by the White House on Wednesday as federal and state officials prepare for a regulatory decision to be made on the COVID-19 shot that Pfizer reformulated for younger children.
A long-awaited decision on a vaccine for that age group is expected in the coming weeks. A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is set to consider authorizing the shot on Oct. 26, and after the FDA’s green light, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then will issue its guidelines for use.
“We know millions of parents have been waiting for COVID-19 vaccine for kids in this age group,” said Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, during a briefing Wednesday morning. “And should the FDA and CDC authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms.”
Making another age group eligible for vaccines could be significant in preventing another spike in infections this winter.
The rate of infections and deaths has been falling after a summer surge caused by the delta variant, but colder weather and the winter holidays will lead to more indoor gatherings, where the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread quickly.
“If we can get the overwhelming majority of those 28 million children vaccinated, I think that would play a major role in diminishing the spread of infection in the community,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser.
Shipments to states
Should the FDA authorize Pfizer’s shot for kids, 15 million doses will begin to ship to states, so providers will be ready to launch the next phase of the vaccination campaign as soon as the CDC weighs in.
The doses for children between 5 and 11 will be different from the ones approved for those 12 and older.
Pfizer has sought authorization for that younger age group to receive one-third of the amount given to adults and teens, and the vials will have a different color cap to distinguish them from the adult version.
Instead of the larger shipments of the adult version that initially were sent out, spurring concerns about potentially wasted doses in areas with fewer residents or less demand, the cartons shipping to pediatricians will include just 10 vials with 10 doses each. Those doses can be stored for up to 10 weeks at standard refrigeration temperatures.
The shipments also will come with all the supplies needed to administer shots to kids, the Biden administration emphasized in a memo outlining its operational plans. That includes needles designed for smaller arms.
Once the shipments go out to states, the doses will be distributed to providers, including pediatricians, children’s hospitals, pharmacies, and community health centers.
Zients said officials are seeking to ensure parents and children can go to a trusted and familiar site to get their vaccine. More than 25,000 pediatric and primary care provider sites will provide vaccinations, he said.
The administration also is working with state and local officials to set up vaccination sites at schools, and with children’s hospitals and other sites to host clinics during evenings and on weekends to inoculate kids at times that don’t require missing work or school.
States can receive reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover their costs related to setting up vaccination sites, buying supplies, and conducting outreach campaigns.
The White House’s planning efforts also include ways to ensure parents are receiving scientifically sound information about the vaccines amid waves of misinformation, and to create forums for them to ask questions.
A third of parents, or 34%, say they will vaccinate their 5-to-11-year-old child “right away” once a vaccine is authorized for that age group, according to a September survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Another third say they will “wait and see” how the vaccine is working, and one in four say they definitely won’t get their children in that age group vaccinated.