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Rollout of COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 to 11 begins in Michigan

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shortly after it arrived at the Kent County Health Department
Kent County Health Department
A vial of the pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shortly after it arrived at the Kent County Health Department.

On Tuesday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 pediatric vaccine for children 5 to 11. That followed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization of the vaccine last week for children in that age group.

State medical and public health leaders are urging parents to get their kids vaccinated as soon as possible.

Why should my kids get vaccinated?

Clinical trials have shown the vaccine to be nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic disease from COVID-19 in the 5 to 11 age cohort.

"It is important to get children ages five and up vaccinated as quickly as possible to save even more lives and reduce serious illness," said Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. "Getting the safe and effective vaccines are an effort that every eligible Michigander can take up to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, and to help end this pandemic."

Hertel said the vaccine will keep children in school by keeping them healthy and reducing the need to quarantine.

"Yesterday's decision [by the CDC] will help move us forward towards safer classrooms, family gatherings, participation in sports, celebrations and all kinds of other milestones," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Chief Medical Executive for the State of Michigan.

"The number of children in Michigan infected and ill with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses is dramatically increasing. Our clinics, emergency departments, and hospitals are reaching capacity," said Dr. Matthew Hornik, President, Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "More than 450 children under the age of 12 become infected with COVID-19 each day."

COVID cases in children are often mild, but data from the MDHHS, CDC and FDA show that COVID-19 has infected 1.9 million children 5 to 11 years old in the U.S. and hospitalized 8,300. Roughly one third of hospitalized children have required treatment in the ICU, and 146 have died. More than 5,000 have developed Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C).

How is the pediatric vaccine different from the kind adults get?

The pediatric Pfizer vaccine is administered in two doses, 21 days apart, at one-third the adult dosage. Clinical trials showed a strong immune response one month after the second dose.

The vials for the pediatric dose also look different than those for adults.

What are the side effects?

The most commonly reported side effects in clinical trials of the Pfizer pediatric vaccine were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, muscle pain, fever, and joint pain. Side effects typically lasted one to three days. More children reported side effects after the second dose than after the first - with the exception of pain at the injection site.

"In the clinical trials in the 5 to 11 year old age group the side effects were very mild," said Dr. Bagdasarian.

As NPR reports, in very rare cases, "following vaccination with mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, people have developed inflammation of the heart muscle, which is known as myocarditis. In Pfizer's clinical trial for 5- to 11-year-olds, there were no cases of myocarditis, although the company acknowledged that the trials were not big enough to pick up such rare events."

"The FDA has properly studied the safety and efficacy of the vaccine in this age cohort and the results are very clear," said Dr. Hornik. "The benefits of the vaccine greatly outweigh the risks."

How can I find the vaccine for my kids?

MDHHS has ordered 287,700 doses for the initial rollout of the pediatric vaccine. The agency says that is the full allocation from the CDC for the pediatric vaccine's launch.

Pharmacies that are part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program have ordered doses separately from the state.

MDHHS spokesperson Chelsea Wuth said doses started to arrive in Michigan on Monday.

She provided a breakdown of the doses ordered by MDHHS and the pharmacies and their destinations as follows:

  • 190,200 doses going to local health departments
  • 2,400 Other (Federally Qualified Health Centers and tribes)
  • 224,100 doses going to hospitals, pharmacies, and pediatricians

Health officials are advising parents to contact their child's health care provider, pharmacies and local health departments to make an appointment for the vaccine.

Some county health departments and pharmacies have started taking appointments. Many health systems, including Michigan Medicine and Beaumont Health, have also started offering appointments.

"We are encouraging providers to put their info on VaccineFinder.org as soon as they can," said Wuth. "We anticipate more providers will be available by the hour and day."

Walgreens said it will offer COVID vaccinesto kids 5-11 starting this Saturday, November 6. Scheduling opened Wednesday. CVS said more than 20 CVS pharmacies in Michigan will provide vaccinesto kids 5-11 starting this Sunday, November 7, but the company did not say where those pharmacies are located. Rite Aid said parents could begin booking appointmentsfor their kids on Thursday, November 4, for time slots starting on Saturday.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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