“We know that access is going to be critical here,” Ms. Bernstein said, adding that the administration had in recent weeks explored ways to provide a “kid-friendly experience that makes sure that we’re getting shots in arms with trusted providers in ways that makes parents feel comfortable.”
Other experts said on Wednesday that it made sense for officials to plan ahead.
“The reality is that they would be absolutely foolish not to have a well-detailed plan prepared,” said Dr. Howard Forman, a professor of public health policy at Yale, adding that health officials in “clinical practices and schools and other settings where children interact should be thinking about this right now.”
The 5-to-11 age group is far larger than the 17-million-member 12-to-15 group, who became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in May. To ensure enough supply, the administration has purchased sufficient doses to vaccinate the younger age group, and officials say they intend to ship 15 million doses to the states immediately.
The younger group will not be expected to line up at mass vaccination sites: “We don’t want lines of kids,” said Ms. Bernstein, who pointed out that children tend to be more sensitive patients. (Read: They cry.) Smaller venues, including pediatrician’s offices, children’s hospitals and pharmacies with in-store clinics will be the preferred options.
The needles that administer the vaccine and the vials that hold it will need to be smaller to be more easily stored. (The Pfizer dose for children ages 5 to 11 is expected to contain 10 micrograms, rather than the 30-microgram dose used for ages 12 and up.) The child-size vials can be stored for up to 10 weeks at standard refrigeration temperatures, and six months at colder temperatures, according to guidance that administration officials made public on Wednesday.
Taking cues from what worked when shots were opened to teenagers, whose vaccinations generally require parental consent, officials are also leaning heavily on local health experts, who they believe are more trusted in their communities and can help reach high-risk children. “Children’s hospitals and health systems will be a critical part of our efforts to advance equity and ensure access for our nation’s highest-risk kids, including those with obesity, diabetes, asthma or immunosuppression,” the guidance read.
If the approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine goes through, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide reimbursement for “full funding to states to support vaccinations and outreach,” Ms. Bernstein said.