With the Biden administration rolling out plans to provide smaller doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11, New Jersey health officials said the state is hashing out its own means to get those shots into kids’ arms.
“Our goal is to make it as accessible and convenient as possible,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during a remotely-held COVID-19 press briefing on Oct. 20.
That means offering the vaccine at retail pharmacies, county-run sites, state-run vaccine mega-centers, federally-qualified health centers, and school clinics, Persichilli said.
Federal officials will meet over the next two weeks to gauge the effectiveness and safety for the COVID-19 vaccine in this age group. Currently the youngest someone can get the vaccine is the age of 12, and only the Pfizer version.
The White House’s plans call for inoculating upwards of 28 million children against COVID-19, which they expect would require coordination and vaccine distribution to 25,000 pediatrician’s offices and primary care sites across the nation—on top of 100 children’s hospital systems.
A key Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is meeting on Oct. 26, followed by an advisory committee within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Nov. 2.
White House officials estimate they can get out 15 million doses in that first week following its expected approval.
Only the Pfizer vaccine – not Moderna or Johnson and Johnson – are approved for anyone under the age of 18. Pfizer has full approval for using the vaccine on adults, and it is seeking to go beyond emergency approval for teenagers and pre-teens.
The plans call for children to get one-third the Pfizer vaccine dosage given to adults. They would be stored in 10-dose vials in cartons of 10 each, which could be kept in standard refrigeration for up to 10 weeks, and ultra-cold storage for up to six months.
Medical personnel would need to use smaller needles for children, and that supply would also need to be coordinated by the federal government.
“That’s the way we’re going to get kids in school and keep them safe, keep them able to play sports and gather with their friends,” Persichilli said.
Nearly 6 million people who live, work or study in New Jersey have gotten the vaccine. Persichilli estimated that 57% of New Jerseyans ages 12 to 17 have received the vaccine, a number that she said needs to be much higher.
The lack of access to the vaccine for children has been widely cited as a main reason for people to exercise caution this holiday season, be it by themselves getting the vaccine, using face coverings indoors or avoiding of large, indoor crowds.
“I actually think caution is warranted still for this holiday season because we’re nowhere out of the woods for this pandemic,” said Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, who’s advised the Murphy administration on its pandemic response.
“We don’t have herd immunity,” he said. “We don’t have vaccinations for children. We know there are breakthrough infections.”