Massachusetts Prepares for Child COVID Vaccine Rollout

Nearly 900,000 children in the state could become eligible for shots in the coming weeks

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Anticipating that kids between the ages of 5 and 11 could become eligible for vaccination against COVID-19 as soon as early November, the White House said Wednesday it is working closely with states like Massachusetts to be ready to deliver the shots within days of the go-ahead.

Nearly 900,000 children in Massachusetts could become eligible for COVID-19 shots in the coming weeks and the state has been planning for months to make the vaccine available through parents' most-trusted sources of information, like schools and pediatricians. The state had also been pressing the federal government to fund the packaging of smaller bundles to make it easier for primary care practices to vaccinate their patients -- lobbying that appears to have been successful.

With COVID-19 vaccinations soon expected to be made available to children between 5 and 11, pediatricians are assuring parents the shots are safe and effective.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's independent advisory committee meets Oct. 26 to consider approval of vaccination for kids as young as 5 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's advisory group does the same on Nov. 2 and 3, the White House said.

The Biden administration said the steps outlined Wednesday -- including enrolling tens of thousands of pediatricians and pharmacies to give the shots and organizing hundreds of school-based clinics -- "mean that we will be ready to begin getting shots in arms in the days following a final CDC recommendation."

Top Boston doctors talk about the "mix and match" approach to COVID vaccine booster shots, variations in vaccine efficacy and school mask mandates.

A "major component" of the preparation, the White House said, is working with state and local governments to make sure the vaccine doses make it smoothly from the federal government through state hands and into kids' arms. The Biden administration said it is holding "operational readiness calls with every jurisdiction" to prepare for the next phase of vaccine rollout.

As of Wednesday, hospitals and doctors across the state have been given the OK to pre-order COVID-19 vaccinations for children between 5 and 11 years old, the Boston Business Journal reported.

They said there will be three waves of pre-ordering, on Oct. 20, Oct, 22 and Oct. 24. The vaccines will be restricted to locations that can store the vaccine and that can administer at least 300 doses within 30 days.

"The state is trying to encourage people to start ordering now, if they can, so we’re as close to ready to go when the FDA and others make determinations," Paul Biddinger, medical director for Emergency Preparedness at Mass General Brigham and director of the MGH Center for Disaster Medicine, told the Boston Business Journal. "Hopefully we will be ready to start administering to kids as close as we can after we get the go ahead."

Hyde Park mom Quiana Agbai says her children will be first in line to get vaccinated.

"For my kids, age 7 and 11, I'm waiting patiently, anxiously, for the vaccine. We've talked to our pediatrician," said Agbai. "And I'm on board."

But others are in no rush.

"Right now, I'm a no," said Candida Shepard, a Boston mom.

Shepard says she believes there are too many unknowns and doesn't want her 6-year-old twins vaccinated.

"Unless it becomes at the point where it's mandatory in order for them to actually attend school, then obviously, that's going to come down to the wire of me deciding to get them vaccinated so that they can attend class," said Shepard.

Boston pediatrician Robin Riseberg says she's constantly reassuring anxious parents that the vaccine is safe and effective.

"They're nervous about side effects," said Dr. Riseberg, founder of Boston Community Pediatrics. "They're nervous that we don't know what the vaccine does, and what I keep telling them is 'We do know what it does, it protects people from getting COVID.'"

"Sometimes they've heard something on TikTok, sometimes they're worried about a long-term side effect that just simply isn't going to happen," Riseberg added. "I'm able to find out what they're concerned about and talk with them."

Agbai is one parent doctors won't have to convince.

"The kids are of an age that they feel left out, honestly, and they've expressed that and they can see how it's holding them back from being able to do certain things," she said. "We know the data when it comes to the Black community being affected deeply by COVID, so I definitely think it's one layer of protection that’s going to be really important for our family."

Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said this summer that the state's approach to vaccinating children is likely to focus on two primary channels of distribution: school-based clinics and pediatrician's offices.

The Baker administration is expected to provide an update Thursday when three legislative committees convene a joint oversight hearing on children's COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

At a July oversight hearing, Sudders said the administration was working on ways to put fewer vaccine doses in a single batch so that pediatricians can keep a manageable supply on hand.

On Wednesday, the White House said the vaccines for kids will be shipped as 10-dose vials in cartons of 10 vials each for 100 total doses. Past shipments have included cartons of between 25 and 195 vials, often with up to six doses per vial.

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