Illinois is expecting an initial allotment of about 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, once the shots are authorized for that group — with pediatricians and schools expected to play a big role in the vaccine administration, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday.
More than 2,200 locations and providers statewide have signed up to offer the shots to children ages 5 to 11, including more than 700 pediatric and family practices, more than 700 pharmacy locations, about 100 urgent care locations, 112 local health departments and public health clinics, among others.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is expected to meet Tuesday to discuss authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee is then scheduled to meet Nov. 2 and 3 to consider it — meaning kids could start getting shots as early as next week. The Pfizer vaccine is already authorized for kids ages 12 and older.
Many Illinois pediatricians are gearing up to offer the shots in their offices — a shift that doctors and parents hope will make the process easier for skittish children.
“Giving a vaccine to a kid is very different from giving a vaccine to a teenager who can sit still and understand, yes, it’s going to hurt briefly, but I need you to stay calm and not move,” said Dr. Hollis Redmon, a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Medical Group Naperville. “Hopefully children react a little better because they’re in a slightly more familiar environment than if they were to be taken to a large gym.”
The expanded vaccination effort would come to an age group that saw a sizeable rise in detected cases during the last surge. For the first time this pandemic, there were more COVID-19 cases confirmed in kids ages 5 to 11 than those 12-17, and there were more cases in the younger age group during the last surge as there was during the fall 2020 surge.
Part of the reason pediatricians will be able to give the shots is because the vaccine may be easier to handle, logistically, than those for adults. The children’s Pfizer vaccine is formulated differently than the one for adults. Kids will receive one-third the dose that adults received, and the children’s doses will be available in smaller packages. The new formulation can also be stored for longer in a regular freezer — 10 weeks versus 31 days for the current one.
Also, some pediatricians have been offering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in their offices to kids ages 12 and older in recent months, giving them the experience necessary to roll out shots quickly for younger kids, doctors say.
Dr. Akanksha Hanna’s pediatric office, Advocate Medical Group Yacktman Pediatrics in Park Ridge, has vaccinated about 200 kids ages 12 and older since early August.
“I think most families I’ve been speaking with are so excited to have it in the office,” Hanna said. “If you’ve ever taken your kids some place they didn’t expect to go, and they’re also supposed to get something unpleasant done, I think they’d much rather be in a more familiar setting.”
Also, she added, pediatricians’ offices are accustomed to giving shots to young children every day.
“Vaccinations, quite honestly, it’s what pediatricians do,” she said.
Redmon has seen children fling themselves on the floor, try to run away or attempt to bargain when they know a needle is coming, said the Advocate Naperville pediatrician.
“Do (medical assistants) get kicked on a regular basis? Yes,” Redmon said. “Are they still able to keep their hands steady with that injection? Yes.”
Still, she cautions that children’s fear of shots shouldn’t deter parents from getting them vaccinated.
“I always say, ‘These vaccines hurt you more than they hurt your child,’ ” Redmon said. “It’s that quick pain for potentially long-lasting safety.”
Advocate Children’s Hospital’s nearly 100 pediatricians will likely begin giving the vaccines to children ages 5 to 11 shortly after they’re approved, said Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer. Advocate hopes to expand in-office vaccinations to many of its 400 affiliated pediatricians soon as well, he said.
Loyola Medicine hopes to begin administering the vaccine to kids in its pediatric and COVID-19 clinics within a few days of the CDC committee’s decision, said Dr. Neil Gupta, chief medical officer for Loyola Medical Group, in a news release.
Children will also have other options, besides pediatricians, for receiving the shots.
Children’s hospitals, pediatricians and local health departments expect to work with schools to offer vaccination clinics for kids at schools, outside of regular school hours. The state health department is overseeing outreach to 756 elementary school districts to offer vaccination clinics on school grounds, the governor’s office said.
And, in Illinois, pharmacies are allowed to vaccinate children ages 3 and older.
Representatives of Walgreens and CVS Health say they plan to start vaccinating younger kids once the vaccines are authorized, with Walgreens saying in a statement its “team members have extensive experience vaccinating children and adolescents.”
Some parents may prefer to take their kids to pharmacies for vaccinations if they think their children can sit calmly through a shot — or for the convenience.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of motivation for families to get their children vaccinated quickly, and if they’re able to get it done as a walk-in to a neighborhood, commercial pharmacy late at night or on a weekend, the convenience of that may outweigh a parent’s desire to go to their pediatrician’s office,” said Dr. Larry Kociolek, medical director of infection prevention and control at Lurie.
Lurie plans to begin giving the shots to kids at its main hospital shortly after they’re authorized, as well as work with schools and community groups to set up other clinics. Some of Lurie Children’s partner pediatric practices will also likely offer the vaccine to younger kids, but smaller practices may face challenges doing so, such as not having the staff or infrastructure to ramp up quickly, Kociolek said.
Parent Kristin Hawksworth, of Orland Park, has called her pediatrician’s office a couple of times to see if they’ve opened up appointments. But she said she’ll take her 11-year-old daughter Ruby wherever she can get in first, whether that be her pediatrician’s office, a pharmacy or a community clinic.
Her daughter doesn’t love shots, but she can handle it, especially knowing how important this one is, she said.
Ruby is the last member of their five-person family who is unvaccinated. Though Hawksworth, her husband and their two older children are vaccinated, they’ve been careful in recent months in hopes of protecting Ruby. They’ve avoided travel and aren’t eating indoors at restaurants.
“We’ve just been watching and waiting,” Hawksworth said. “She’s excited for this one because I think she knows what it changes, just for our family.”
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