The White House on Wednesday unveiled its plans to roll out Covid-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, pending US Food and Drug Administration authorization.
The Biden administration has secured enough vaccine supply to vaccinate the 28 million children ages 5 to 11 who would become eligible for vaccination if the vaccine is authorized for that age group and will help equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of community health centers and rural health clinics as well as tens of thousands of pharmacies to administer the shots, according to the White House.
“We know millions of parents have been waiting for Covid-19 vaccine for kids in this age group. And should the FDA and (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) authorize the vaccine, we will be ready to get shots in arms,” White House Covid-19 response director Jeff Zients told reporters at a White House Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday.
Zients continued: “Kids have different needs than adults and our operational planning is geared to meet those specific needs, including by offering vaccinations in settings that parents and kids are familiar with and trust.”
The administration is also launching a partnership with the Children’s Hospital Association “to work with over 100 children’s hospital systems across the country to set up vaccination sites in November and through the end of the calendar year,” the White House announced.
The administration also plans to help make vaccination available at school and other “community-based sites” with help from Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.
The Department of Health and Human Services will also carry out a national public education campaign “to reach parents and guardians with accurate and culturally responsive information about the vaccine and the risks that COVID-19 poses to children.”
Vaccine advisers to the FDA are scheduled to meet next week to consider Pfizer’s request to authorize its vaccine to children ages 5 to 11.
If authorized, this would be the first Covid-19 vaccine for younger children. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is currently approved for people age 16 and older and has emergency authorization for children ages 12 to 15.
Pfizer said last month that a Phase 2/3 trial showed its Covid-19 vaccine was safe and generated a “robust” antibody response in children ages 5 to 11. The trial included 2,268 participants ages 5 to 11 and two doses of the vaccine administered 21 days apart. This trial used a 10-microgram dose – smaller than the 30-microgram dose that has been used for those 12 and older.
Immune responses were measured by looking at neutralizing antibody levels in their blood and comparing those levels to a control group of 16- to 25-year-olds who were given a two-dose regimen with the larger 30-microgram dose. Pfizer said the levels compared well with older people who received the larger dose, demonstrating a “strong immune response in this cohort of children one month after the second dose.”
US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said on NBC’s “Today” on Wednesday that US health officials want to be prepared for children to be able to get vaccines as soon as they can. He said the administration has been working for the last several weeks to months to prepare for the decision from the FDA and CDC.
These preparations include ensuring there is enough supply for every child in the 5- to 11-year-old age range, making sure there are tens of thousands of locations where people can get the vaccines and making sure that parents have answers to their questions and accurate scientific information that can be used in decision making, Murthy said.
He said that ensuring that parents had the answers to their questions was “really important,” and so they have been working hard with doctors, nurses, teachers, parents and other community organizations to make sure that people can get the answers to their questions from trusted sources.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said getting kids vaccinated can help ensure the safety of their entire family during an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Prime Time” Wednesday evening. Fauci recognized “parents have valid questions that need to be answered” about vaccinating their children.
“It’s up to us to be very transparent with them, and to give them the correct answers to the questions they ask,” he continued. “I think if we do that, I hope that the vast majority of parents will realize the real benefit for the children to get vaccinated.”
As of Wednesday morning, 56.7% of the total US population, or about 188 million people, has been fully vaccinated. At the same time, 23.2% of the eligible population, or about 66 million people, is not vaccinated.
An average of 240,749 people are initiating the vaccination process each day, according to the CDC. This is a 13% decrease from last week and a 28% drop from a month earlier.
The Delta variant of Covid-19, which is more transmissible and may cause more severe illness than previous strains, has ripped through parts of the country with low vaccination rates for months, though cases have decreased in recent weeks. Biden and health officials have repeatedly pleaded with unvaccinated Americans to get the shot so they can protect themselves and those around them, but many still refuse.
Biden said last week the nation was “headed in the right direction” on Covid but that the country is now is a “very critical period” as he asked the 66 million Americans to get vaccinated. He touted progress in the pandemic response and cited lower daily case numbers and declining hospitalizations.
But some places are still seeing troubling hospitalization numbers. For example, more than 96% of ICU beds in Minnesota are full, according to the state health department.
Biden has stressed the White House is leading with the science and taking the lead from medical experts with its pandemic response and national vaccination rollout. In addition to preparing for the FDA and CDC to make a decision on vaccines for younger Americans, the White House has been working on getting many eligible Americans booster Covid-19 shots.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht, Naomi Thomas, Amanda Sealy and Ben Tinker contributed to this report.