Children aged five to 11 in the US will soon be able to get a COVID-19 jab, the White House has announced.
Officials say the expected authorisation of the Pfizer vaccine for younger children in a matter of weeks will allow them to receive the shot at their paediatrician’s office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school.
Federal regulators will meet in the next two weeks to assess the benefits of giving COVID jabs to people in that age group, after lengthy studies intended to ensure the safety of the vaccines.
Within hours of formal approval, expected after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory meeting scheduled for 2-3 November, doses will start being shipped to providers across the country.
Smaller needles necessary for injecting younger children will also be sent out.
“We’re completing the operational planning to ensure vaccinations for kids aged 5-11 are available, easy and convenient,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients on Wednesday.
The Biden administration noted the nationwide campaign to extend vaccination to the school-going cohort would not resemble the start of the country’s vaccine rollout 10 months ago, when scarcity of doses and capacity issues meant a painstaking wait for many Americans.
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The country now has ample supplies of the Pfizer shot to vaccinate the roughly 28 million children who will soon be eligible, White House officials said, and work has been ongoing for months to ensure widespread availability of shots once approved.
More than 25,000 paediatricians and primary care providers have already signed on to administer COVID vaccine shots to children, the White House said, in addition to the tens of thousands of retail pharmacies that are already administering shots to adults.
Hundreds of school- and community-based clinics will also be funded and supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help speed the vaccination process.
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The White House is also preparing to roll out an intensified campaign to educate parents and young people about the safety of the shots and the ease of getting them.
“COVID has also disrupted our kids’ lives. It’s made school harder, it’s disrupted their ability to see friends and family, it’s made youth sports more challenging,” US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy told NBC.
“Getting our kids vaccinated, we have the prospect of protecting them, but also getting all of those activities back that are so important to our children.”
Dr Murthy said the administration, which is promoting employer vaccine mandates for adults, is leaving the question of requirements for schools to local and state officials, but described them as “reasonable”.
The administration says children who get their first shot within a couple weeks of the expected approval in early November will be fully vaccinated by Christmas