Vaccine eligibility expected to expand soon to children ages 5-11

Children ages 5-11 are expected to soon be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine created by Pfizer-BioNTech and New York State officials are preparing to assist in distribution.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee on Tuesday recommended the vaccine for the 5-11 age group — which accounts for about 1.5 million kids in New York — and the next step is for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance, which will likely be next week, Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a media briefing Wednesday.

“This is extremely exciting news,” Ms. Hochul said. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Currently, children ages 12-17 are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine. The advisory committee is recommending the FDA grant emergency use authorization for the vaccine in the 5-11 age group. That decision is expected shortly. The FDA formally approved the vaccine beyond the emergency use authorization for those 12 and older in August.

The governor, asked specifically about whether a vaccine mandate could be placed in schools as is required for other diseases such as measles, said it’s a “possibility.” She said right now COVID-19 numbers are “good” and she would give parents the opportunity first to “do the right thing.”

Ms. Hochul said more than 370 providers across the state have already pre-ordered 380,000 pediatric doses from the State Department of Health. That total includes nearly 31,000 doses ordered specifically for the Long Island region. Chain pharmacies will also get tens of thousands of additional doses directly from the federal government, the governor said. She said she would expect an initial rush of people seeking the vaccine for their children.

“I suspect there will come a time when parents who would not get their kids, get themselves vaccinated,” she said. “We may have to have some more conversations with them on how important this is.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul provides a COVID-19 update Wednesday. (Credit: Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul)

Ms. Hochul said there will be various places that parents can bring their children to receive the vaccine, which will be an important step toward preventing spread in schools. 

Dr. Emily Lutterloh, the state director of epidemiology, is heading the state’s effort to vaccinate the 5-11 age group. She said preparations have been underway for weeks and the state has worked with partners such as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ New York chapter. 

“We know that parents want to be able to talk to their child’s pediatrician and get the kids vaccinated where they go for their other medical care,” Dr. Lutterloh said. “That means we need our pediatricians and other clinicians who see children to talk to parents about the vaccine and to encourage those who are eligible to get the vaccine and to give the vaccine in their office.”

The governor said the state had reached out to all school districts to gauge how individual districts can help the vaccination effort.

“We have asked the school districts to tell us how they want to do it,” she said. “Do they want to do it in the school? Are they going to partner with the local health departments? Working with local pharmacies? School-based health centers?”

Kathrin Jansen, the senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development for Pfizer, said about 10% of all weekly U.S. cases occur in children ages 5-11 and pose a risk for complications.

“Immunizing children will help to get us closer to herd immunity, with the potential to stem the pandemic sooner,” Ms. Jansen said in a statement.

Clinical trials in the 5-11 age group showed “robust immune responses and a vaccine efficacy rate of 90.7% in participants without prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, measured from seven days after the second dose,” according to Pfizer.

Clinical trials are still underway in age groups for 2-4 years old and children under 2. Data from those age cohorts is expected later this year or in early 2022.

The positivity rate for COVID-19 in Suffolk County continues a downward trend and now stands at 2.5% on a seven-day average, according to the most recent data. There are 156 people hospitalized in the county with COVID.