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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

COVID-19 vaccines for kids are being shipped to Cleveland area soon

photo of student getting Covid vaccine
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Melia Brown, a seventh grade student at Edgewood Middle School in Wooster, received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on May 14, 2021. The vaccine has now been authorized for children as young as 5.

A panel of advisers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the way for children as young as 5 to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and shipments could arrive in Northeast Ohio soon. 

Based on the panel’s recommendation, the FDA is expected to grant emergency use authorization in the coming days. The vaccines can then be distributed when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issue official guidance for this age group, which is expected early next week, said Dr. Heidi Gullett, medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. 

 “The vaccine is being shipped separately for pediatric dosing, and so there’s an ordering process that’s already in place and we are hopeful that we’ll receive those and be ready to dispense pediatric vaccines as soon as we have a green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Gullett said on The Sound of Ideas Wednesday. 

The vaccine authorized for children age 5 to 11 contains one-third of the dosage given to adults and adolescents aged 12 and up. 

Cleveland-area health departments and hospitals are already preparing distribution plans for the younger age group. 

UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital will hold mass vaccination clinics at locations in Shaker Heights and Parma, as well as the hospital’s main campus in Cleveland, said Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of pediatric infection control, during a news conference Wednesday. 

They are also making the vaccine available at pediatrician’s offices, she added. 

“It’s going to be as easy as calling your doctor’s office and getting an appointment to have your child vaccinated,” Hoyen said. 

The vaccines cannot be shipped out until the FDA officially grants emergency use authorization, which is expected in the coming days, she added. UH is expecting shipments to arrive later this week or early next week. 

“At UH, we have everything ready to go, just ready to open up the channels for getting people scheduled and into the offices when we have the green light,” Hoyen said. 

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health will also hold vaccination clinics for this specific age group next month, said Romona Brazile, director of prevention and wellness at the board of health.

There is expected to be ample supply of vaccines for the pediatric population, so the vaccines should be widely available across the region for those who want them, she added. 

At Cleveland Clinic, pediatric COVID-19 vaccines will be incorporated into the hospital system’s COVID-19 vaccination infrastructure that is already ongoing, said Dr. Michelle Medina, interim director of population health. Patients will be able to receive the shots at the hospital’s pediatric offices, retail pharmacies and several mass vaccination sites, she said. 

Medina expects most kids will receive the vaccine at their pediatrician’s office.

“We’re really pushing and aiming for our pediatric offices to have the bandwidth and the availability to give more,” Medina said.

The CDC panel is meeting early next week, and if final approval is given, the Clinic could start vaccinating kids as soon as that weekend, Medina added. They will not take walk-ins yet, she said.

“It is a different product, so we have to know how many are coming in to prepare the right product,” she said.

The hospital ordered a specific number of vaccines based on how many pediatric patients received the flu shot last year, Medina said. Once they have a better sense of the demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, they can order more.

When creating appointments, officials will take into consideration popular times that kids may want to come in, as well as the time needed for staff to prepare the vaccines, she said.

“We realize that a lot of the children will want to do this after school, so we want to make sure we have after-school availability,” Medina said. “We want to make sure that we, from our end, understand when the children are coming in because … the formulation is different, the dosing is different, so we want to be prepared and make sure that we are giving the right product when they come in for a dose.”

Some parents are eager to get the shot for their elementary school-aged children, while others are more hesitant, Medina added.

“The lower in age you get, I think there’s a certain amount of concern because you’re really giving it to children who have their entire lives ahead of them,” she said. “I think for the most part, people are understanding there are a lot of benefits to this.”

ThePfizer shot was found to be safe and highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in this age group in clinical trials, she said. And while children for the most part have not experienced the same rates of serious and deadly cases of COVID-19 compared to adults, the virus can cause long-term side effects in children that are concerning, she said.

The expanded eligibility to younger age groups comes at the same time as many adults are receiving booster shots. Last week, the CDC authorized boosters for people who have received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and meet certain qualifications, such as age and underlying conditions. The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for boosters back in September.

That, coupled with the staffing shortages plaguing many hospitals across the state, could make for a busy environment at vaccination sites once pediatric vaccines are incorporated, Medina said.

“We’re actually going to have lanes – ‘if you’re 5 to 11, here’s your lane. If you’re 12 and up and it’s a first dose, here’s your lane. If you’re a booster from Moderna, here’s your lane,’” she said.  

Hospital officials are asking patients to come prepared with information about which shot they are getting to help make it easier for those running the vaccine sites, she said.
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