Lamont: 'We're ready' as Pfizer says data shows vaccine benefit in ages 5 to 11

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2020, file photo, a droplet falls from a syringe after a person was injected with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2020, file photo, a droplet falls from a syringe after a person was injected with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Providence, R.I. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

David Goldman / Associated Press

With Pfizer-BioNTech releasing promising data Monday on the efficacy of the COVID vaccine on children age 5 to 11, Connecticut officials said the state is prepared to offer vaccines to kids this age if it gets federal approval.

The new data, which the vaccine maker said will go to the Food and Drug Administration as soon as possible, has been much anticipated as students returned to school, some of whom still are ineligible to get vaccinated.

“We’re ready,” Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday when asked about Pfizer’s announcement earlier that morning. The governor said the news would not result in any immediate changes to schools or public life, but that could change in time.

“You want to roll it out safely. You want to give folks an option, so it’s probably going to take a few months,” Lamont said, after an unrelated press event.

While it remains unclear when the vaccine may get emergency approval from federal regulators, officials are hopeful it will come by October.

The latest news on the vaccine comes as Connecticut appears to be past the worst of an uptick in cases brought on by the delta variant. Statewide COVID-19 numbers released Monday showed 1,446 new infections since Friday. The positivity rate was 2.14 percent out of 67,484 tests. The number of people hospitalized for the disease fell by a net 23 patients to 309. Of those 229 - just over 74 percent - were not yet vaccinated, according to the governor’s office.

In announcing the new data Monday, Pfizer’s chairman and CEO, Albert Bourla, acknowledged that cases across the country involving children have jumped substantially in recent months.

“Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received our COVID-19 vaccine. We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and CEO, in a statement.

Nationally, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have spiked, according to Keith Grant senior system director of infection prevention at Hartford HealthCare, but that hasn’t been the case at the hospital system.

“We haven’t seen much of an uptick among children, we’ve seen an uptick I’d say in our 25-and-older (group),” Grant said Monday during a virtual press conference on booster shots. “That’s not within the last month, that’s within the last I think two or three months,” he added.

Vaccine efforts for school-aged children age 12 and older have been a focus for officials across the state leading into the school year. As of Thursday, the state reported that 67 percent of kids age 12 to 15 were fully vaccinated and 77 percent of children age ages 16 and 17 were fully vaccinated.

Lamont said recently he would consider mandating vaccines for children, but has said he would like to see full FDA approval, not just emergency approval, before considering a requirement.

Speaking to the Pfizer’s announcement Monday, Lamont said: “It’s a really great step forward to keep our kids and our schools safe.”

While the exact number of Connecticut residents that are age 5 to 11 not immediately clear, state data shows there are nearly 400,000 who are between age 2 to 11.

Medical experts in Connecticut lauded the latest data from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine partnership.

Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer at Hartford HealthCare, called the development of a vaccine for those under 12 “exciting news” on Monday.

“I think we were hoping by October this would be the case, it looks like that’s what happening. So we will be prepared to advise parents and (the) community at large,” he said during the press conference.

Dr. Tom Murray, associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital, said he was looking forward to the FDA approving the vaccine for children this age.

“I am very excited to hear about the safety data and strong immune response provided by the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5-11 yrs old,”said Murray. “

Murry highlighted that the vaccine “provides another layer of protection for in-person education, after school activities and social events and is an important step toward reducing the high number of pediatric COVID-19 infections currently occurring across much of the United States.”

While vaccines have been key to students safely returning to schools, testing has also played a substantial role. However, Lamont did not see an immediate need to increase testing like New York City schools announced Monday.

“I think we're doing pretty well. I follow the rates. We still have about the lowest infection rates in the country. That's been pretty stable going on a month,” Lamont said. “Our schools are open, our kids are going to school safely. We're gonna wait and see what happens with Pfizer and the vaccine for the younger kids. That will make a big difference.”

School-based cases in Connecticut have been steadily increasing since the several weeks since students and staff returned for the new academic year.

According to the latest figures the state released last Thursday, 751 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year — 657 were not vaccinated. Additionally, 126 school staff have tested positive for COVID-19, 28 of whom were not vaccinated.

Staff writers Alex Soule, Brianna Gurciullo and Ben Lambert contributed reporting.