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CDC approves COVID vaccine for kids 5 to 11, shots available immediately

Pfizer vials
The pediatric version of the Pfizer vaccine is given at one-third of the adult dose. (Courtesy photo)

Nov. 9: COVID shots for young kids adds confusion to Michigan school mask mandates
Nov. 3: Child COVID vaccines are available in Michigan. Now comes the hard part.

Children ages 5 to 11 can be immunized against COVID-19 as early as Wednesday, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on a pediatric Pfizer vaccine for younger children. 

The agency's approval Tuesday evening followed the unanimous recommendation of the two-dose children's vaccine by the CDC's advisory panel, in a 14-0 vote earlier in the day. The milestone vote makes 28 million youngsters in the U.S. and more than 800,000 in Michigan eligible.  

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"As a mom, I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement late Tuesday. 

While many parents are eager for their children to receive a vaccine that's been endorsed by the country's major medical groups, surveys in Michigan and nationally indicate many others remain hesitant.

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration preordered more than 278,000 pediatric doses for the state, which arrive with smaller needles. The shots are expected to be available at pediatrician’s offices, vaccination clinics where adult vaccines are also given, and schools that choose to host clinics.

The Pfizer pediatric dose has proven more than 90 percent effective for the age group, according to its manufacturer, and would be given in a lower dose than is given to older recipients.

Federal approval of COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 has been awaited for months as Michigan has dealt with an increase in childhood infections.

The number of COVID cases connected to outbreaks in Michigan schools is significantly higher than last year. While young children are far less likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19, they are not immune. 

 

More than 600 pediatric deaths have been reported nationally since the pandemic began. And in Michigan, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, a serious condition in which a COVID infection inflames organs and tissues, has been reported in 172 people under 20 years old, including 122 who were admitted to a hospital intensive-care unit, according to the latest state data.

Tuesday’s announcement was welcome news to Emily Mellits, of Romeo in Macomb County, who has two children between the ages of 5 and 11 who will now be eligible for immunization.

Mellits’ third-grade son missed a week of school in September in quarantine because of close contact with a classmate who tested positive for the coronavirus, and the same boy’s whole classroom is quarantining this week because of multiple COVID cases in the classroom.

“We’re planning on getting the kids vaccinated,” said Mellits, a spokesperson for a parent-run group that advocates for mask mandates in schools. “We’re happy to have that extra layer of protection. You never know who is going to be that child that has a severe reaction” to COVID. 

Not all parents are as eager. An ongoing survey by KFF (The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation) last month found that 27 percent of parents nationally were eager to vaccinate children 5 to 11, about a third planned to take a wait-and-see approach and about 30 percent would not be vaccinating their children. 

Where pediatric shots will be available is likely to vary around the state.

Some Michigan schools are planning to host their own vaccine clinics in the coming weeks, as many did for students age 12 and older when they became eligible for COVID-19 immunizations.

Grand Rapids Public Schools and Detroit Public Schools Community District both plan to hold vaccine clinics, with dates and locations to be set in the coming days, according to spokespeople for the districts. Ingham Intermediate School District Superintendent Jason Mellema said he expects most districts in his county to hold clinics.

A survey of parents of elementary school parents in Ingham County found that 57 percent planned to get the vaccine for their children, 34 percent were against it, and 9 percent were unsure.

Immunization sites may be more rare in some parts of the state. Colette Scrimger, health officer for the Barry-Eaton District Health Department, said she didn’t know if schools in the two mid-Michigan counties would host clinics, and said there were few providers planning to offer the child vaccines.

“We would strongly encourage that individuals seek vaccination through their provider or pharmacy,” Scrimger said. “However, in our community, very few providers are offering vaccines for children. Some of our small local pharmacies will be offering vaccines for children but we do not have confirmation on the plans of the larger chain pharmacies.”

The CDC committee’s vote Tuesday followed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision last week to authorize the two-dose pediatric vaccine. Days earlier, FDA advisors concluded that the benefits of protecting young children from the virus outweigh the vaccine’s rare side effects. 

But it fell to the CDC to recommend specifically how the vaccines will be administered, therefore clearing the way for providers to begin offering them to families. While the FDA and CDC typically follow the advice of their medical advisors, they were not bound to do so. 

Even before the CDC recommendation, doses were arriving around Michigan. In West Bloomfield Monday, Dr. Matthew Hornik’s office received a styrofoam, temperature-controlled cooler with 300 doses.

Hornik, president for the Michigan chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said many parents may need some reassurance, but many others have been looking forward to having their children vaccinated for months — worried about the pandemic’s toll on their children’s education and mental health and ready to return them to a more normal holiday season and school year.

“They are going to jump at this, and some others… don’t want anything to do with it,” he said.

The large number of parents in the middle — those who are yet undecided, he said, — “are where we’ll target our efforts.”

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