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Pharmacy technician Suzanne Eagan shakes a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before drawing a dose for a health care worker at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
With COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 expected to gain federal approval by next week, state and local health officials are preparing to administer shots to thousands of young Iowans in the coming weeks.
The Iowa Department of Public Health anticipates the approximately 284,000 Iowans in that age group can start receiving shots by the first week in November, pending an emergency use authorization. Vaccine experts are meeting over the next week to offer final recommendations on the two-dose coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech.
“The earliest we could offer the vaccine would likely be (Nov. 4) sometime,” University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Chief Pharmacy Officer Mike Brownlee told reporters Wednesday.
In anticipation of a surge in demand for the shots, federal officials already have purchased enough pediatric doses for the estimated 28 million Americans who will become eligible. A third of parents nationwide say they plan to vaccinate their children “right away,” according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
States soon will receive additional shipments of doses to facilitate a quick start to the new phase of the vaccination campaign.
HELP US REPORT: What questions do you have about the COVID vaccine for children?
State public health officials say an initial allocation of 99,000 doses for children 5 to 11 is expected to arrive in Iowa by Nov. 4. The state will be able to order more weekly as needed.
One-third dose effective for kids
Data from Pfizer shows a lower dose — one-third the amount given to adults and teens — was 91 percent effective in preventing children ages 5 to 11 from developing COVID-19. Data also shows only mild side effects were reported during the vaccine trial, the Washington Post reported.
The pediatric vaccine would be administered only after it receives approval from both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On Tuesday, after weighing the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, an independent panel of vaccine experts recommended the FDA give full approval.
Advisers to the CDC are scheduled to meet Tuesday and Wednesday, where they will offer recommendations on how the vaccines should be used. Once that guidance is finalized, shots will start going in arms within days.
Young children are less likely to become severely ill from COVID-19, meaning the vaccine must have a significant impact on slowing down the pandemic to justify approval, experts say.
“This is another opportunity to give them (protection) and to help them stay in school, and to also help prevent the transmission of the virus to the immunocompromised and others who are vulnerable,” said Dr. Rami Boutros, director of pediatrics at UI Health Care.
While Gov. Kim Reynolds emphasized the importance of every Iowan getting vaccinated, she said during an Oct. 20 news conference that she does not plan to mandate the vaccines for anyone.
“I believe that parents should be in charge of not only their children’s education but their children’s health care,” Reynolds said. “So they need to visit with their pediatrician, ask the questions they have and then parents will make the decision in what’s best for their children. It’s not the government’s children, it’s their children.”
Iowa public health officials anticipate most vaccines for this age group will be administered in pediatric and family medicine clinics, as well as rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers.
It’s likely that retail pharmacies and similar providers will be able to offer the vaccine as well, said Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi.
The White House is pushing to make these vaccines available in elementary schools across the country, according to a plan released last week by the Biden administration, but no details have been released
“Families should call their children’s vaccine provider (pediatrician, family medical clinic or local public health department) and inquire about scheduling an appointment to have their children vaccinated,” said Iowa public health spokeswoman Sarah Ekstrand.
County public health departments are in the midst contacting local providers to determine who has the capacity and ability to provide vaccines to this new group. Some facilities may not be scheduling yet, since there are questions providers need answered before going live with appointment slots, said Sam Jarvis, community health division manager for Johnson County Public Health.
“However, this does not mean that facilities are not planning right now,” Jarvis said.
“Our goal is to make the COVID vaccine easily accessible to everyone who is eligible,” UIHC’s Brownlee said.
Of 99,000 doses for children arriving in Iowa by next week, Linn County is expecting an advance allocation of about 9,000 doses, Dwivedi said. There’s an estimated 20,294 residents in the county between the ages of 5 and 11.
Johnson County will receive 4,000 doses in the first allocation, which will wait on shelves until full approval, Jarvis said. There’s an estimated 11,700 5 to 11 year-olds living in Johnson County.
Doctors say kids should get vaccinated
UIHC officials say its providers are working with state and county public health partners to prepare to administer shots to this age group. That includes working through logistics on how to prepare the one-third dosing amount for kids, Brownlee said.
Based on the county’s high vaccination rate, Jarvis said Johnson County Public Health officials anticipate high interest in the community.
Dwivedi said he and other local public health officials do no anticipate a shortage of supply at this time. He also doesn’t anticipate anyone who wants to vaccinate their children will struggle to find an appointment.
UIHC providers encourage children to get vaccinated as soon as possible, since it still is possible for them to develop serious symptoms from COVID-19. They also encouraged parents with questions to talk to their child’s health care provider.
The Washington Post and Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau contributed to this report.
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