With a coronavirus vaccine expected to be authorized soon in the U.S. for use in younger children, California is preparing for its largest eligibility expansion since the jab was made available to the general 16-and-older population in April.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, state Health and Human Services secretary, said Wednesday that California expects to receive 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine formulation for kids 5 to 11 in a few days, with rollout to start next week. Doses would be distributed across a few thousand providers across the state.
A key U.S. Food and Drug Administration committee on Tuesday voted to endorse the authorization of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in child-sized doses for those ages 5 to 11.
It will take a few more administrative steps — authorization from the full FDA, recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a review from the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup — before shots can go into elementary school-aged arms.
A CDC advisory panel will discuss COVID-19 vaccinations in a two-day meeting next week, Nov. 2 and 3. If the panel follows the FDA committee’s lead, full authorization could come before the end of next week.
Ghaly emphasized that the vaccines will protect California kids, not just their families.
“(COVID) is among the top 10 killers of kids in the last year,” said Ghaly, a pediatrician.
“So this is not just another thing for kids to take the hit, or take one for the team. This is about protecting kids, prioritizing kids, keeping schools going, keeping schools safe and getting back to normal.”
The state has roughly 3.5 million children between ages 5 and 11. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized in May for adolescents 12 through 15, who make up about another 2.1 million of the state’s 39.5 million residents.
Among eligible California juveniles, about 59% are fully vaccinated and just over two-thirds have had at least one dose, according to data updated Wednesday by the California Department of Public Health. About 73% of all eligible Californians are fully vaccinated, with 81% having had at least one dose, according to CDPH.
Pfizer’s vaccine is fully approved for those 16 and older, under the brand name Comirnaty, while the clearance for ages 12 through 15 and the coming clearance for 5 to 11 are emergency use authorizations.
Newsom speaks on vaccinating children for COVID
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Oct. 1 that California will require the COVID-19 vaccine for students at public as well as private K-12 schools to attend classes in person, once the FDA gives full approval in those age groups.
Newsom, following his own booster shot at an Alameda County clinic on Wednesday, said the state is supportive of school districts who want to mandate vaccines for schools ahead of the state’s own deadline, which will likely be July 2022 pending full FDA approval.
He emphasized California’s focus on vaccinating children as the jab becomes available.
“There are 10 other vaccinations that your kids get for measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough,” he said. “I find it rather extraordinary and fascinating, some of these politicians out there that are just outraged that somehow their freedom has been impacted yet they’re doing nothing about their previous mandates that they are accountable for, on all those other vaccines.”
Newsom noted California’s relatively low COVID-19 transmission rates, but said the state must also “maintain that discipline” heading into the winter months, including with booster doses for those eligible and first doses for children.
“We want our kids back in school without episodic closures.”