Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said COVID vaccinations for children between the ages of 5 and 11 could begin as early as next week in Illinois.
Speaking during a coronavirus update Monday, Pritzker said that should the vaccine be approved for that age group by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, administration could begin by "early to mid next week."
"We will have those vaccines in hand and we'll be able to begin vaccinating young children 5 to 11," he told reporters.
The Food and Drug Administration's panel of expert advisers is set to debate whether the Pfizer shots are ready for the nation’s roughly 28 million children ages 5 to 11 Tuesday. If the FDA authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make additional recommendations on who should receive them the first week of November.
In order for distribution to begin, the vaccine must be granted emergency-use authorization by both the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Full-strength Pfizer shots already are recommended for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem infections from the extra-contagious delta variant and help keep kids in school.
In Illinois, more than 2,200 locations and providers, including family medicine practices, urgent care centers and public health clinics, have enrolled to provide doses to children, Pritzker said in a news release.
Initially, the state will receive approximately 306,000 doses for kids 5 to 11, with an additional 73,000 doses for the city of Chicago and more than 100,000 headed to federal government pharmacy partners.
"In just a few days time, millions of parents all across the United States should be able to breathe a sigh of relief that they've been holding in for over 18 months now," Pritzker said.
As positive COVID-19 cases among children have spiked in recent days, Pritzker and state health leaders encourage parents to get their children vaccinated and even take action before approval is granted.
"As a parent, you should call your pediatrician now to make sure they’ve enrolled and have ordered doses," he said. "And I will do everything in my power to continue to follow the science and keep our kids safe.”
Federal health regulators said late Friday that child-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections in elementary school children and caused no unexpected safety issues.
In their analysis, FDA scientists concluded that in almost every scenario the vaccine's benefit for preventing hospitalizations and death from COVID-19 would outweigh any serious potential side effects in children. But agency reviewers stopped short of calling for Pfizer's shot to be authorized.
Most of the study data was collected in the U.S. during August and September, when the delta variant had become the dominant COVID-19 strain.
The FDA review found no new or unexpected side effects. Those that did occur mostly consisted of sore arms, fever or achiness.
However, FDA scientists noted that the study wasn't large enough to detect extremely rare side effects, including myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose.
While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta variant surged, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Doctors at Advocate Children's Hospital said last week that while cases in children tend to be less severe than those seen in adults, "more children are being hospitalized with severe COVID-19 infection than was seen earlier in the pandemic."
The group also warned that multiple cases of a life-threatening COVID-19-related condition called the pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome have been reported in the Chicago area and experts still don't know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on kids.
Last week, the White House announced children ages 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician's office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, detailing plans for the expected authorization of the Pfizer shot for elementary school youngsters in a matter of weeks.
The Biden administration has purchased enough kid-size doses — in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine — for the nation’s 5- to 11-year-olds. If the vaccine is cleared, millions of doses will be promptly shipped around the country, along with kid-size needles.
Illinois health experts acknowledged that many parents will likely have questions surrounding COVID vaccinations for children.
The state's top doctor and other pediatric health officials urged parents to discuss the decision with their doctors and ensure that any other information comes from reputable websites.
"As the state's top health officials, and as a board certified pediatrician and mom, I am urging every single parent and guardian to do this for their child," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "Make a plan to get them vaccinated for COVID-19."