The White House has outlined the early stages of its plan to make coronavirus vaccines available to about 18 million children under the age of 5 this month, the last group of Americans still eligible for the injections.
The Biden administration has made 10 million doses available to states and healthcare providers; half were made available for order last week, the other half this week. It offers equal numbers of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
State orders have been somewhat lukewarm so far, according to data senior government officials provided reporters at a briefing Wednesday night. Of the five million doses offered last week, 58 percent of the doses made by Pfizer-BioNTech have been ordered, as have about a third of the doses made by Moderna.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview a formal announcement on Thursday, said the first orders so far have been typical of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns, as states typically place their orders over the course of the increase time. Still, vaccine uptake among children ages 5 to 11 is sluggish, a trend health experts feared could continue among the youngest group.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April found that only 18 percent of parents with children under 5 said they would get them vaccinated right away, while 38 percent said they would wait and see. Their hesitation may be at least in part due to the virus being typically less risky for young children.
Federal officials said on Wednesday they expected many children under the age of 5 to be vaccinated by pediatricians and primary care physicians. But they said they had organized a network of other locations that would work to get shots at families, including pharmacies and children’s hospitals.
To reach smaller pediatric offices and providers nationwide, officials said, doses are packaged by the hundred.
Government programs such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Women, Infants and Children Program will work with families to encourage vaccination, officials said. Other groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of Children’s Museums and the National Diaper Bank Network, will provide educational materials.
Delivery of the vaccines is subject to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of pediatric doses — a step that could take place next week — and the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would formally launch the campaign. The FDA and its external panel of vaccine advisors will meet next Wednesday to discuss the injections for young children; the CDC’s own committee of experts is scheduled to meet days later.
dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC director, would be the last to sign.
Officials said they expected vaccinations to begin in earnest next week, perhaps from June 21, and that all parents seeking the vaccine for their children could find doses within weeks of that.
Moderna is seeking approval for its two-dose injection for children under 6, while Pfizer is asking regulators to release the three-dose vaccine for children under 5.
Federal officials have said they are not anticipating regulatory action by announcing distribution plans for the vaccine before it is approved. Instead, they have said, they are working to prepare families and doctors for the potential rollout. Last year, the White House was criticized for undermining the regulatory review that usually precedes vaccination campaigns when it announced a wide-ranging booster shot campaign before FDA officials or their outside advisers weighed in, a decision that was divisive.
The deliberations on the vaccine for the youngest children are not expected to cause the same disagreements. Parents have been begging for the option for a long time, and were briefly given hope over the winter when FDA officials worked to make a first two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s injection available to children while they studied a third dose. That plan backfired when data showed that two doses provided no significant protection against the Omicron variant.
Moderna proposes a two-dose regimen for children 6 months to 5 years of age, using one-fourth the strength of an adult dose. Pfizer and BioNTech are working on a three-dose schedule for children 6 months through 4 years of age, with one-tenth the strength of the adult dose.
White House officials will again inform reporters about the distribution plans at 11 a.m. Thursday