Illinois' health department released its plans for coronavirus vaccinations for kids as young as 5 Wednesday, one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the shots.
Late Tuesday, the CDC 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.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said Wednesday that it plans to align with the CDC's recent guidance.
“I encourage parents who may have questions about COVID-19 vaccines for their children to talk with a pediatrician or family doctor,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “Medical experts and scientists have reviewed the data, which included clinical trials with more than 3,000 children receiving the vaccine, and have recommended the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children. While most children do not suffer severe COVID-19 illness, some do. We also know children are great transmitters and can unknowingly infect people who could suffer severe illness. We need as many people as possible, including children, to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus and end this pandemic.”
Because the children's doses are smaller and in different containers, the doses must be shipped to both the state and Chicago. Vials of the lower-dose Pfizer vaccine for kids are headed to the Chicago-area any day now, health officials say.
IDPH reported vaccines will be available at local health departments across the state, at a number of pharmacies, at pediatrician officials and other providers. Places administering the vaccine will be asked to watch a training video prior to offering them to children.
So far, roughly 2,200 providers in Illinois have registered to administer the vaccines to young patients, according to IDPH. The department is also working with schools across the state to set up vaccination clinics and plans to host hundreds of youth vaccine events.
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 in the city.
"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.
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.
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, Pritzker said.
"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.