Coronavirus vaccinations for kids under 12 cleared the final phase of the authorization process on Tuesday, but when could they begin in the Chicago area?
Late Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final OK for youngsters age 5 to 11 to get kid-size doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech. Pediatricians and other doctors' groups praised the move and are gearing up to help families decide whether to vaccinate their children.
Because the children's doses are smaller and in different containers, the doses must be shipped to both the state and city.
Vials of the lower-dose Pfizer vaccine for kids are headed to the Chicago-area any day now, health officials say.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said that while next week will be a big week for vaccinating children, the shots could begin as early as Thursday.
"I think it's likely that by this weekend if everything goes as planned, we'll probably probably maybe as soon as Friday, maybe even Thursday, you know, we may start vaccinating," she said during a Facebook Live Tuesday. "And, you know, a lot of it will probably be more next week realistically."
A similar estimate was given for Cook County.
“We are expecting it today, tomorrow, at least by Wednesday," said Dr. Jackie Korpics, medical director for the Cook County Department of Public Health COVID-19 Response.
Dr. Korpics believes shots could start going into arms as early as Thursday.
Duly Health and Care, formerly DuPage Medical Group, is getting ready to administer the shots to its thousands of pediatric patients age 5 to 11 years old, but said timing still remains unclear.
"We don't know exactly how much vaccine we're getting and how quickly [we] will receive it. So in order to maximize access to the vaccine to as many patients as we can get it to, we're going to elect to start with our central site," said Dr. Mia Taormina, chief of infectious diseases at Duly Health and Care.
Duly Health and Care is not scheduling appointments just yet and neither is the DuPage County Health Department.
DuPage County is not planning on vaccinating children ages 5-11 at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, where they have been administering booster doses of the vaccine three days a week.
"We're going to be closing that site and we're going to be offering the pediatric appointments at three of our public health center locations. We have our main office here in Wheaton, which will be one of the sites. We also have satellite locations in Lombard and Westmont,” Adam Forker, director of client access for the DuPage County Health Department, said.
You can register eligible children online now. The DuPage County Health Department will contact you about scheduling an appointment, as soon as they start taking appointments.
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.
While the vaccine for children ages 5-11 has "the exact same ingredients" and will follow the same timeframe between doses, "it is only going to be a third the dose," according to Arwady.
"This is because younger children have a smaller body mass and in studies, they had the same level of antibodies and protection," Arwady said. "But the lower dose makes it less likely that the 5-to-11-year-olds will have side effects."
Arwady noted that the change in dosage will also require smaller needles and different vaccine vials.
"So we won't have people pulling adult and children doses out of the same vial, there is a separate process for child vaccines," she said.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state has been preparing for the youth shots.
More than 2,200 locations and providers in the state - including family medicine practices, urgent care centers and public health clinics - have enrolled to provide doses to children, Pritzker said in a 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.
"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.”
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, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported.
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.
"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 last week. "Make a plan to get them vaccinated for COVID-19."
Both Moderna and J&J's vaccines can only be used on people 18 and older, though Moderna also is studying its shots in elementary school-aged children.