With the federal government on the cusp of approving COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5-11, Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday afternoon that the state is gearing up to distribute the vaccine to the youngsters almost as soon as the Empire State gets the green light from Washington.
Earlier this week, an FDA advisory board recommended that children ages 5-11 receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine; at this point, vaccines are only available to individuals 12 years of age and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consider authorizing the Pfizer vaccine for younger children during their Nov. 2-3 meeting, with guidance on distribution set to come as early as Nov. 4 if approved, Hochul noted.
“We’ve been waiting for this. Parents have been waiting for this. Schools have been waiting for this,” Hochul said.
More than 1.5 million children ages 5-11 reside in New York state, and Hochul said on Oct. 27 that the state government has already preordered 380,100 vaccine doses, and the governor said that will be the first of many orders. In the first order, 231,000 doses have been earmarked for distribution in New York City.
The majority of the doses will be provided to health car providers, pediatricians and hospitals, Hochul added. Although she left open the door for possibly using state-run mass vaccination sites for distribution to younger children, Hochul said the distribution plan aims to make the vaccines available at places where parents and children may be most comfortable in receiving the shots.
Dr. Emily Lutterloh, director of epidemiology for New York state, was named to head up the pediatric vaccination effort. She advised parents to consult with their children’s pediatricians to see if they are distributing the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available, and to ask them an questions about the vaccine and its side effects. She also advised pediatricians to schedule vaccination appointments as soon as they can.
The state will also expand its “Vax to School” program, initiated for children 12 and up at the start of the school year in September, to include younger children if and when the COVID-19 vaccine is approved for pediatric use, Lutterloh added.
“And we will continue to get the word out that these are really good vaccines,” said Lutterloh, a mother of two young children awaiting eligibility for the vaccine. “They’re safe, they’ve been tested, they’re effective, it’s free and easily available. … We all want to get back to normal, and the fastest way to do that is to get as many people vaccinated as we can.”
For now, the COVID-19 vaccine, once approved for use in younger children, will be made available on a voluntary basis — with all parents strongly encouraged to get their children vaccinated. But Hochul did not rule out potentially mandating use of the vaccine among children if usage is low and COVID-19 cases begin to spike.
“As I’ve said all along, I want to empower parents and the schools to do the right thing first. But if we’re not seeing adequate compliance, or we’re seeing the numbers start going up … if I start seeing infection rates going up, hospitalizations going up, more children being affected, I will have no choice. But right now, the numbers are good, you can get the kids voluntarily vaccinated, parents will hopefully do the right thing and I will keep an eye on that situation.”