TAMPA, Fla. — The Food and Drug Administration is expected to discuss data on the safety and efficacy of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5-11 on Oct. 26. The Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County and experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health weigh in on what we can expect once it's rolled out.
- When could it be available? According to Dr. Kawsar Talaat with the Bloomberg School's Center for Immunization Research, the earliest children in this age group will start getting vaccinated is early November. After the FDA's meeting on Oct. 26, a CDC panel of outside experts is expected to discuss the vaccine on Nov. 2-3.
"If everything goes well, then if they vote to recommend the vaccine, it could be available by the end of that week. It may take a few extra days, but that's the earliest it would be available."
- Is the rollout expected to go more smoothly than the initial rollout for adults? Yes. Dr. Talaat said this is because the U.S. has plenty of doses of vaccine for the 28 million kids in the 5-11 age group.
"In addition, the rollout to kids will happen not at big mass vaccination sites but at their doctor's offices, at places where they already go regularly and where there is a lot of trust established. Now, this obviously will potentially leave out some kids who don't have regular doctors that they go to, and so some safety net systems need to be put into place so that all kids have access to the vaccine."
- What will be the role of local health departments? Because the vaccine is so widely available, the public information officer for the Florida Dept. of Health in Hillsborough County said the team there likely won't be running vaccination sites this time around, although they can if demand surges. PIO Kevin Watler said the focus for the 5-11 group will probably be working with community partners to inform and educate the public - something they've been doing all along.
"We're always talking with the school district. We have a weekly call with them, and we're always updating them, especially as we do contact tracing for cases that they may have. So, we're always talking to, not just Hillsborough County Schools, but also to private schools to make sure that they are provided that information to let their parents know exactly what they should be doing to protect their children."
Spokespeople for health departments in Citrus, Hernando, and Pinellas Counties said they're waiting until the vaccine receives emergency authorization and they receive further guidance before releasing details of their plans.
- What will be the biggest challenge? Talaat said vaccine hesitancy is expected to remain a challenge for this age group.
"Vaccine hesitancy has become a really big obstacle to getting everybody vaccinated - adults and children. We need to make sure that people have accurate information about the vaccine, accurate information about the risks of COVID, not just for adults, but for children, as well. Children can get long COVID. Children can get this multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and trying to educate and speak to parents about their concerns and listen to their concerns so that we can overcome some of that hesitancy."
- Is anything expected to help encourage vaccinations this time around? The Biden administration announced Wednesday that pediatrician and primary care offices are among those they plan to equip to give the shots to kids.
"I think it'll make a big difference in addressing vaccine hesitancy because people trust their pediatricians, and they go to them for guidance and for support when their kids have problems," said Talaat. "So, having their trusted care providers say that this is a good vaccine and you should give it to your child, especially as a lot of pediatricians have already been starting to say this to parents for many months prior to the vaccines even being available, and to ask them about their vaccination plans helps them normalize the conversation and get them used to the idea that their kids will get vaccinated."