Biden administration prepares to vaccinate children

WASHINGTON — In preparation for final regulatory approval of coronavirus vaccinations for children between the ages of 5 and 11, the Biden administration has already begun shipping millions of coronavirus vaccine doses across the country.

Those vaccines will be administered to children in schools and pediatricians’ offices as soon as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers its sign-off, which it is expected to do on Tuesday.

“As we await the CDC decision, we are not waiting on the operations and logistics. In fact, we’ve been preparing for weeks,” White House pandemic response team coordinator Jeff Zients said during a Monday briefing. He said that a “critical operation milestone” came last Friday, after a childhood vaccine was approved for emergency use by a key Food and Drug Administration panel.

Because children’s immune systems differ from those of adults, they will be administered only 10 micrograms of vaccine, a weight that is one-third of what adults receive. Unlike adults, young children will not choose between three brands of vaccines; only Pfizer has gained approval to inoculate this youngest cohort. (When children below the age of 5 will be eligible for vaccination remains unclear.)

Bridgette Melo, 5, prepares for her inoculation of one of two reduced 10 ug doses of the Pfizer BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine during a trial at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina September 28, 2021 in a still image from video on September 28, 2021. (Shawn Rocco/Duke University/Handout via Reuters)

Bridgette Melo, 5, receives a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a trial at Duke University in Durham, N.C., in September. (Shawn Rocco/Duke University/Handout via Reuters)

With 28 million children set to become eligible later this week, parents who have been frustrated by school closures and other disruptions may finally see some relief after what has been a grueling stretch marked by social isolation, learning loss and emotional distress.

The Biden administration is clearly eager to see children roll up their sleeves, especially as cold weather arrives in much of the United States and activities from school lunch to recess move indoors. Zients said that “within minutes” of the FDA’s approval on Friday, 15 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine began their journey from the biomedical corporation’s freezers to regional distribution centers. From there, they will make their way to schools, pediatricians’ offices and community health clinics. In all, 20,000 sites are expected to participate in the push to vaccinate children.

“Since FDA’s authorization last Friday, there hasn’t been a moment that teams haven’t been picking, packing and shipping vaccines,” Zients said. “They have been working 24/7 and will continue to do so.” He did caution, however, that the childhood immunization rollout would take some days and would not be “fully up and running” until the week of Nov. 8.

“More and more sites will come online as we ramp up,” he said.

A man walks past a sign announcing a #VaxtoSchool pop-up site at Life of Hope Center on October 21, 2021 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

A sign for a #VaxtoSchool pop-up site at Life of Hope Center in New York City on Oct. 21. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Logistics is only one challenge facing the Biden administration when it comes to childhood vaccination. A potentially bigger problem may come from misinformation that wildly exaggerates the harms of vaccination, which have so far been confined to rare reports of a heart condition known as myocarditis.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has at times spoken about her own struggles as a mother, in particular regarding remote learning — a practice that would presumably decrease in most cases with widespread childhood vaccination.

And she has also countered the notion that children never contract, become seriously ill or die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. While the severity of illness rises sharply with age, children can still get sick — and about 400 children under the age of 12 have died from COVID-19 in the United States, according to the CDC.

“This is not necessarily just a benign disease in children,” Walensky told PBS last week, leaving little ambiguity about how she would rule on the approval when the time came.

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