The Pima County Health Department is awaiting its first round of COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 and shots could be available as early as next week.
The Food and Drug Administration paved the way Friday for children in that age group to get kid-sized doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will weigh in and a final decision by the CDC director is expected soon after, The Associated Press reports.
“Why does it matter that we need to vaccinate children? Well, the largest number of cases that are being reported through our schools are in that group that is less than 12 years of age,” Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County’s chief medical officer, said Friday.
Vaccinating a meaningful number of children would help to reduce both the number of outbreaks in schools and the number of children sent home due to COVID-19, Garcia said.
By reducing these outbreaks in schools, he said, the virus that causes COVID-19 will also have fewer opportunities to infect those at greatest risk in the wider community, like the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions.
There are 88,040 children between the ages of 5 and 11 in Pima County, and about 111,000 doses will be needed to immunize that population.
So far, the county has ordered 11,400 pediatric doses. Once the vaccine arrives, distribution will start after CDC authorization.
“I do want to moderate our expectations,” Garcia said. He doesn’t expect all the county’s children in this age range to show up for a vaccine in the first week or the first month of the rollout.
“We are prepared to serve every single one of those children who come to us, but I believe that we will continue to see some degree of hesitation,” he said, although he is confident many parents will choose to vaccinate their kids.
“Most parents now have had the vaccine themselves and it will be exactly the same vaccine except in a third of the dose,” Garcia said.
The county’s Health Department will offer the shot to children at five schools per day once the vaccine is available here. The vaccine will also be offered at vaccine clinics on weekends, and there will be a homebound vaccination program for children not in school. Consent forms for parents and guardians will be provided for the shot.
“We’ve been working with community schools to prepare for this,” said Spencer Graves, a program manager with the county department. Charter, private and public schools will be included and Graves anticipates a schedule to be released within the next week or so.
The vaccines will also be available at all the Health Department clinics, with information and times available at www.pima.gov; click “COVID vaccine.”
Many local pharmacies and pediatric clinics will also be offering the pediatric shot, Graves said. A list of such pharmacies is not yet available. People should call ahead to inquire if they want to get the vaccine for a child through a pharmacy.
COVID cases in Pima County schools are up to over 3,500 as of last week since classes began in late July or early August, with students accounting for 87% of the cases while school staffers account for 13%.
Children who have so far not been eligible for the vaccine account for 47% of the school-related cases in the county while those over 12 make up 39% of the school cases, county data shows.
So far, over all age groups, 1.3 million doses of COVID vaccine have been administered in the county and 78.2% of the vaccine-eligible residents here — those 12 and older — have received at least one dose.
The National Institutes of Health reports that immunocompromised children and children from communities of color can be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Other risk factors for severe COVID illness include chronic cardiopulmonary disease, obesity, children with health challenges that make them dependent on technological support, and organ dysfunction diseases.
Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or