CT prepares to roll out COVID vaccines for young children

A 5-year-old child receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11 at Hartford Hospital in Hartford.

A 5-year-old child receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11 at Hartford Hospital in Hartford.

Joseph Prezioso / TNS

Connecticut health officials are poised to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to the last remaining age group that has been unable to get it: children ages 6 months to 4 years old.

Ninety-one providers have signed up to receive a supply of the vaccine for young children. The state has ordered 26,690 doses of the immunization — 12,940 doses of the Pfizer shot and 13,750 doses of Moderna, officials at the Department of Public Health said.

Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week unanimously recommended emergency authorization of the vaccines for children 6 months to 4 years old, and the FDA on Friday granted that approval. Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then unanimously decided Saturday that coronavirus vaccines should be made available to children as young as 6 months

“We’re very excited at the ... approval of the vaccine for these age ranges,” said Michael Bolduc, vaccine coordinator for the state’s immunization program. “I know that a lot of parents have been waiting for this. As soon as the vaccine is available, we will have doses available in provider offices early next week.

“The vaccine is safe, it’s effective, and it’s the best tool we have in combating a disease that in Connecticut has killed almost 11,000 residents and in the United States killed over one million individuals,” he said.

Shots for young children are expected to ship quickly to states, usually within 24 hours, Bolduc said. There are 181,710 children younger than 5 in Connecticut.

Pfizer’s vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years old requires three shots. The first two are taken three weeks apart and the third is taken at least two months later. The shots are one-tenth the dosage of the vaccine for for adults. Federal agencies have already authorized Pfizer COVID vaccines for 5- to-11-year-olds, for those 12 to 17 and for those 18 and older.

Moderna’s immunization requires two doses spaced four weeks apart. It would cover children ages 6 months to 5 years old. Currently, Moderna’s COVID vaccines are approved only for those 18 and older. The drug maker has also sought emergency authorization for a shot for people 6 to 17.

The immunizations for young children contain 25 micrograms - far less than the 100 micrograms in adult vaccines.

Parents who want to make an appointment should first check to see if their pediatrician or family doctor is one of the providers administering shots for this age group, health officials said. If not, they can visit vaccines.gov, type in a zip code and find vaccine clinics near them.

Providers who have signed up to receive the vaccine for young kids include pediatricians, larger health systems, and local health districts and health departments.

“For the younger ones, I would recommend people reach out to their own doctor first, because that’s where your child is used to going for vaccines, where you’re used to bringing your child for vaccines,” said Dr. Jody Terranova, a pediatrician with UConn Health and president-elect of the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “I think that will just make things a little bit easier. More and more practices have been signing up to participate for the kids, because we know it’s easier for them to be able to get it in their ‘medical home.’ But if your doctor doesn’t have it available, then certainly some of the other larger organizations will have it.”

As children begin activities like summer camp and families prepare for vacations, parents should consider vaccination, Bolduc said.

“COVID is here to stay. It’s not going away anytime soon. We have a vaccine that’s effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death. And so we would highly advocate for anyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine to do so,” he said. “Getting your child vaccinated is a great way to allow a child to be a child. It allows them to be able to do the things they want to do, whether that’s going to camp or playing sports. The best way to protect them and the best way to protect their loved ones is for everyone in the family to be vaccinated.”

Dr. John Schreiber, an infectious diseases physician with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, said that although adults have gotten sick and died in higher numbers, children have not been spared by the coronavirus. Connecticut Children’s is one of the providers that has signed up to receive a supply of the vaccines for young kids and plans to hold clinics.

“If you look at COVID overall, obviously for adults, particularly the elderly, it’s been pretty devastating. And there’s this sort of media hype that kids don’t get sick,” he said. “But when you drill down on those data, actually, about 800 kids [in the U.S.] have died from COVID, and a number have gotten very sick. We’ve had some in the ICU in Connecticut Children’s, not all of them high risk, some just normal, run-of-the-mill kids. So while it’s much less devastating in small children, it’s not zero. I like to approach this saying: I don’t want kids to die from a vaccine-preventable illness.”

Nationally, one in five parents of children under five years old say they intend to get their child a COVID vaccine right away once eligible, a May study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found. Another 38% said they would “wait and see” how it works for other young kids before getting their child vaccinated.

Twenty-seven percent said they would definitely not vaccinate their child against COVID, while 11 percent said they would do so “only if required,” the study found.

For parents who aren’t immediately planning to immunize their young children, the vaccines will continue to be available as kids prepare to go back to school next fall and beyond, Terranova said.

“If you aren’t ready to do it today, know that we have it, know that if a surge is coming, if you’re seeing in other parts of the state or locally that it’s starting to pick up and you want to get it later this summer before school starts or in the fall, we’ll still have it,” she said. “When you’re ready, we’re ready.”

The Biden administration is making 10 million doses of the vaccine available to states, Tribes, territories, community health centers, federal pharmacy partners and others, the White House announced recently.

“If the FDA authorizes a vaccine, the administration will immediately begin shipping doses across the country — and will launch an effort to ensure that parents can get their youngest children vaccinated easily,” officials said in a news release. “Eighty-five percent of children under the age of five live within five miles of a potential vaccination site.”