South Carolina is prepared to get shots in the arms of children ages 5 to 11 as soon as the COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for that age group, state health officials said.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control learned this week it would receive up to 152,100 Pfizer vaccine doses intended for use in children ages 5 to 11 during the first week of November, assistant state epidemiologist Jane Kelly said Wednesday.
The doses can’t be administered to children that young until federal health officials greenlight the Pfizer vaccine’s use for that age group, but authorization may be just a couple weeks away.
Advisory panels to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to meet over the next two weeks to review data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in children. If they decide to authorize and recommend the vaccine’s use, and the CDC director signs off, children ages 5 to 11 could be eligible for COVID-19 shots by Nov. 4, Kelly said.
The vaccine regimen would be identical to the one in place for individuals 12 and older, except for a reduced dosage amount. Children ages 5 to 11 would receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks apart, with each dose containing one-third the amount given to those 12 and older, according to Pfizer’s request for emergency authorization.
The White House, which Wednesday rolled out its vaccine distribution plans for children ages 5 to 11, has been hosting calls with state health officials to encourage them to enroll pediatric vaccine providers and assist with vaccine outreach and public education campaigns.
Kelly said DHEC officials spoke with the CDC Monday about three upcoming shipments of Pfizer doses for children ages 5 to 11 that are expected to arrive Nov. 1, Nov. 3 and Nov. 6.
The state has been working for some time to prepare for the eventual authorization of vaccines for children under 12 and currently has 258 providers enrolled to vaccinate children.
“We have been contacting individual providers, as well as working through the American Academy of Pediatrics and primary health care organizations in South Carolina to make sure that pediatric providers know that they have access to this vaccine,” Kelly said.
The majority of providers enrolled to give COVID-19 shots to children already administer other childhood immunizations, so they’re very familiar with safely vaccinating kids, she said.
Providers will include pediatrician’s offices, children’s hospitals, pharmacies and other primary care sites across the state.
The primary difference between vaccinating this age group and adults is ensuring that providers know how to deal with children, Kelly said.
“The difference really is more of a behavioral thing,” she said. “How do you work with children? How do you keep them calm? How do you appropriately administer the vaccine?”
Young people, including children ages 12 to 17, are the least vaccinated subgroup in the state with only about 40% having gotten at least one shot, according to DHEC data.
If a similar proportion of the roughly 430,000 children ages 5 to 11 in South Carolina end up getting vaccinated, the state would need about 350,000 combined first and second doses to accommodate them.
“We hope we will see a strong demand for vaccination in this age group and will be able to continue ordering doses on a regular schedule,” Kelly said. “(COVID-19 vaccines) will be available and accessible, so there should not be the long delays that we experienced last winter, for example, with adults.”
Overall, about 54% of eligible South Carolina residents are fully vaccinated and almost 62% have gotten at least one shot. The state’s vaccination rate ranks 37th nationally, according to CDC data.