President Biden on Tuesday pledged a smooth rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged 6 months to 4 years old who can now head to pharmacies and doctors’ offices for their shots, giving the rollout a different look than mass efforts for older ages that featured converted gymnasiums and drive-thru centers.
Mr. Biden said the federal government’s website, vaccines.gov, would be updated Tuesday so families can find vaccine sites and appointments in their communities.
“Finally, some peace of mind,” Mr. Biden said. “The United States is now the first country to offer safe and effective vaccines for children as young as 6 months old.”
Mr. Biden tried to stir enthusiasm for the shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna during a tour of a vaccine clinic in southeast Washington and remarks from the White House.
There may, however, be less enthusiasm for this part of the vaccine campaign because many people think coronavirus does not cause severe disease in children. Federal officials note that 442 children in the newly eligible age group have died from the virus and thousands more were hospitalized.
Mr. Biden took a thinly veiled shot at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who said he will not use any state resources for the under-5 rollout but will not prevent doctors and hospitals from ordering them on their own.
“Elected officials shouldn’t get in the way and make it more difficult for parents who want their children to be vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said. “This is no time for politics.”
There is pent-up demand among some parents to give their kids some protection, though polls suggest more than a third of families are in a wait-and-see mode.
“I would anticipate a burst of uptake as those parents who have anxiously been awaiting the protection for their kids can get it. Then I think it will take time and be incorporated into the routine visits that young children make to their [family physicians],” said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers.
Some kids received shots as early as Monday.
While most kids will get vaccinated by a family doctor, pop-up clinics in the nation’s capital are offering free and mass access to city families. Mr. Biden and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser greeted kids playing with red and yellow blocks in a waiting area as nearly 20 families came in for vaccinations at a southeast Washington clinic.
Pfizer is offering a three-dose regimen for children ages 6 months to 4 years that uses one-tenth of the adult dose. It released data in May that showed a preliminary efficacy of 80% after the third dose, though it was based on a small sample of symptomatic cases in the trial. A final analysis is pending.
Moderna is offering a two-dose regimen for children ages 6 months to 5 years that uses one-fourth of the adult dose. It released data in late April that said the shots were 37% to 51% effective against symptomatic infection — a low level that is still on par with what adults would expect against the omicron variant after two doses. It is studying the impact of a third dose in children, meaning the drugmaker could catch up to Pfizer’s version and provide similar levels of protection.
CVS Health said it began administering the Pfizer version to newly eligible persons on Tuesday at 1,100 of its MinuteClinics.
Company spokesman Matt Blanchette said board-certified nurses, nurse practitioners and physician associates at the sites “have significant experience providing vaccinations to a younger population as well as private exam rooms, which will make the process easier for kids, parents and guardians.”
The vaccine will be given to those 18 months and up — in line with other vaccines given at the CVS clinics — so the company said parents of children 6-17 months should contact their pediatrician.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in April found that only 18% of parents with children under 5 planned to get their kids vaccinated right away, while 38% were in a “wait and see” mode.
Another 27% said they would definitely not seek out the pediatric shots and 11% said they would only get their youngest kids vaccinated if required.
Officials in California and the District, have said they will mandate COVID-19 shots for K-12 students once the vaccines are fully approved for the relevant age groups.
“My thinking is there may be a push to add COVID vaccines to the mandated schedule [in schools], but not anytime soon. The battle to get kids vaccinated is going to be fought over public perception,” said Art Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
Mr. Caplan said he is worried that some parents won’t see COVID-19 as a threat to their kids. He also thinks some parents won’t bother completing the three-dose regimen for their kids. Pfizer’s vaccine is given in two doses 21 days apart, followed by a third dose eight weeks later.
“It doesn’t have to do with mandates,” Mr. Caplan said, “it has to do with three-shot vaccines being something that people notoriously don’t finish.”