US prepares to roll out COVID vaccines for children aged 5 to 11

About 28 million US children in age bracket will be eligible to receive Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID jab.

US officials say children will receive 'specifically formulated' vaccine doses that are not the same as those being administered to adults [Shawn Rocco/Duke University/Handout via Reuters]

The United States’s COVID-19 vaccination programme for children between the ages of five and 11 will be “running at full strength” as of next week, the White House has announced, a significant milestone in the country’s fight against the virus.

Children in the age group will be able to get Pfizer-BioNTech jabs at paediatricians’ offices, medical clinics, pharmacies and community health centres, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said during a news briefing on Monday.

The programme will be “running at full strength” starting the week of November 8, Zients said, but jabs could be administered as early as this week in some parts of the country.

“We have been planning and preparing for this moment,” he told reporters.

“There’s plenty of supply of the Pfizer vaccine and we look forward to parents having the opportunity to vaccinate their kids,” Zients added.

Children will be able to get COVID-19 jabs at paediatricians’ offices, medical clinics, pharmacies and community health centres [File: Hannah Beier/Reuters]

The announcement comes after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday granted emergency authorisation for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to children in the five-to-11 age bracket.

But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still needs to advise on how the shot should be administered, which will be decided after a group of outside advisers discuss the plan on Tuesday.

About 28 million US children in the five-to-11 age group – most of whom are back in school for in-person learning – will be eligible to get vaccinated. Only China, Cuba and the United Arab Emirates have so far approved COVID-19 jabs for younger children.

On Monday, Zients said that children will be given “specifically formulated” doses because those that are currently being administered to adults cannot be used.

He said the Biden administration moved 15 million doses to distribution centres throughout the country after the FDA issued its emergency approval on Friday.

Pfizer has said that in clinical trials its vaccine showed more than 90 percent effectiveness in protecting young children from contracting the virus.

The rollout holds additional significance for the US, which has recorded the world’s highest coronavirus-related death toll with more than 746,000 fatalities to date, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

Meanwhile, US officials also announced on Monday that nearly 80 percent of adults had received at least one coronavirus vaccine jab. Almost 70 percent of American adults are fully vaccinated.

The US’s booster jab campaign has also been making headway, Zients said, with about 20 million Americans having received a booster shot so far.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said despite some parts of the country still experiencing outbreaks, the US has seen a steady decline in nationwide cases, hospitalisations and deaths in recent weeks.

About 69,000 new cases are detected every day – a 3 percent decrease from last week, she said, while hospitalisations are down 10 percent at about 5,100 a day. Daily deaths are also down 10 percent to an average of 1,100.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies