California state Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan announced on Wednesday that vaccinations will open up to 3.5 million children ages 5-11 in the state by the end of the week once final national approval for pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations are given.
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Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a vaccine mandate for all school aged children in grades K-12 to attend class. While the vaccine had been given a minimum age of 12 to administer, Newsom’s order noted that younger children would be included once the approval was given for them.
On Tuesday, FDA vaccine advisors began to recommend approval for kids aged 5-11. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted that the vaccine for that age group had an efficacy rate of around 91% in preventing COVID-19 in children, with no side effects shown in clinical trials. Mixed with a growing number of pediatric cases and herd immunity not yet being achieved, including 66 child deaths because of CVID-19 since the beginning of the year, full FDA approval is likely soon.
With Pfizer now shipping out child vaccines in preparation, Dr. Pan said on Wednesday that California is preparing for approval and will have 1.2 million doses ready to distribute in the first week. 4,000 sites and over 1,000 providers will also be assisting in the next wave of vaccinations.
“We have around 4,000 sites that are ready to administer and over 1,000 providers across the state enrolled to vaccinate,” Pan said. “And more than 860,000 doses of vaccine have already been ordered. This is our opportunity to protect another 9% of our population. This is another important turning point in our fight against COVID-19 and gets us closer to achieving full family protection against the virus.
“The more vaccinations we get into the arms of eligible Californians, the more we stop the spread and shrink the pool of people vulnerable to COVID-19. This will get us closer to ending the pandemic. Our youngest children have remained vulnerable to the highly contagious virus as older Californians have received their vaccine. Now the time is coming to protect them. There have been more than 35 pediatric deaths from COVID-19 in California alone, and this is more deaths than we see with flu in a very bad flu season. There simply is not an acceptable number of child deaths when such an effective and safe prevention are available.”
Vaccines expected to become available for ages 5-11 next week
However, despite the prepared network, as well as efforts to add more school locations to administer the vaccine, vaccinations will not be available overnight. In addition to federal finalization, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will need to complete a review of the vaccine for approval in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. While no date has been given as a “start” date, it will likely come some time next week, with a full two dose inoculation goal by Christmas, due to the three week second dose period.
“We enter into these next many weeks confident in the state of play with vaccines and their ultimate protection of so many, but cautious and vigilant with our guard up,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at the Wednesday briefing. “COVID does cause severe disease in young kids. Any avoidable preventable impact — whether it’s death or severe disease and long-term chronic conditions for young people — if we have a safe effective measure to avoid it, it’s one that we want to emphasize and make available.”
However, the addition of a younger age group is widely expected to spur even more student pullouts and homeschooling efforts by parents who don’t want their child to receive the vaccine, with the highest numbers expected to come from districts that don’t offer many exemptions.
“Younger kids not getting the vaccine have been a ‘saving grace’ to parents who have been really uneasy about pulling their students out of school,” explained Alyssa Hutchinson, an Orange County homeschool transfer advisor who helps parents move to homeschooling options online, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s about to become a reality and I’m expecting a large wave of parents asking for help very soon. It usually takes a day for most parents to react for news, so it will be a very busy day for me tomorrow. I’m already seeing an uptick in e-mails right now and I’m afraid to look at my work phone’s unread text amount.
“You also need to realize that these are some of their youngest children the mandate will now be covering. Parents will not respond well.”
Vaccines are expected to begin being administered next week for children aged 5-11.
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