The U.S. has entered a new phase in COVID-19 vaccination after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave the final sign off on kid-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11.
It’s one small shot for elementary-age students, but a big step toward immunity against the novel coronavirus.
The lower dose of Pfizer's vaccine -- one-third the dose given to older children and adults and administered with kid-sized needles -- was allowed to begin after the final OK late Tuesday. Two doses are required three weeks apart, plus two more weeks for full protection, meaning children who get vaccinated before Thanksgiving will be fully covered by Christmas.
In Massachusetts, they will be given out at pharmacies, doctors offices and schools. Some already have doses now. Pelmeds Pharmacy hosted a vaccine clinic in Needham to give out some of the first shots for schoolchildren.
“At first it hurt for like one second and then it didn’t hurt at all,” said 8-year-old Jay Drews.
“It has been a big relief for a lot of parents who have called and want to get their kids in vaccinated,” said Bhuren Patel with Pelmeds Pharmacy.
Pediatricians are also planning to give the double dose right in their offices, providing a trusted space for kids and their families.
Boston Community Pediatrics founder Dr. Robyn Riseberg said, “They know the staff, they know who’s vaccinating them, they know they’re getting stickers at the end, and I think it’s so important to be in a place that kids trust and feel comfortable at this time.”
School districts like Cambridge and Lexington are also stepping up to provide clinics for kids in school gyms and cafeterias.
Lexington School Committee Chair Kathleen Lenihan said, “This is hugely important for them to be able to get back to more normal life.”
In larger districts like Worcester, permission slips have already been sent home to parents so kids can be vaccinated during the school day starting next week.
“Fifty schools we’re going to in two weeks,” said Worcester’s Health Commissioner Dr. Matilde Castiel.
Dr. Castiel says her staff and team of volunteers will then begin youth vaccinations at afterschool programs by partnering with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and the Department of Youth Opportunities.
“We’re going to go to those programs and have clinics in those programs that families can go to,” said Dr. Castiel, “and hopefully we can vaccinate the entire family.”
"There might be a rush on it at first, but I feel confident that the pediatric offices can do this," Dr. Christina Hermos of UMass Medical Center said.
She said her clinic already has the doses and is ready to go.
Some parents are eager to get their kids vaccinated, while others are being more cautious.
Many pediatricians' offices were expecting strong interest in the shots at least initially, but health officials are worried about demand tapering off. Almost two-thirds of parents recently polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would wait or not seek out vaccines for their kids.
Dr. Clovene Campbell said she wants to help parents who may be hesitant.
"You just listen to their concerns and to their questions respectfully and reassure them as best as you can," she said.
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Thousands of pediatricians pre-ordered doses, and Pfizer began shipments soon after the Food and Drug Administration's decision Friday to authorize emergency use. Pfizer said it expects to make 19,000 shipments totaling about 11 million doses in the coming days, and millions more will be available to order on a weekly basis. Authorities said they expect a smooth rollout, unlike the chaos that plagued the national one for adults nearly a year ago.
Vaccines can also be scheduled at local pharmacies. Walgreens planned to start kids' vaccinations Saturday and said parents could sign up online or by calling 1-800-Walgreens. CVS was also accepting appointments online and by phone at select pharmacies starting Sunday.
The state's order of 360,000 doses will be ready by Friday. You can find more information about vaccinations for children 5 to 11 in Massachusetts on the state Department of Public Health website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report