Families in Virginia should expect delays in immunizing children ages 5 to 11, officials say


After months of waiting on the part of families, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines for children aged five to 11 were authorized on Tuesday after approval from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the state Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -United.

But doctors and local health officials are calling for patience even as thousands of vaccines, specially formulated for pediatric patients, flock to Virginia. State vaccine coordinator Dr Danny Avula said supply is not a concern for health officials. But the first shipment of doses will be split across the state and, in many cases, redistributed to local providers, likely creating delays in scheduling appointments.

“Availability is a bit limited because it’s a new vial, it’s a new packaging, it’s a new tampon,” said Breanne Forbes Hubbard, Population Health Officer for Mount Rogers Health District in southwest Virginia. “So unfortunately we can’t just craft from existing adult vials, because we have a lot of them ready to go. “

According to Avula, a total of 377,000 pediatric doses are expected to be delivered to Virginia in the first week of shipping, of which 252,000 will go to health departments, private practices and health systems. Another 125,000 will be delivered to pharmacies thanks to a partnership with the federal government.

That supply is enough to immunize more than half of the 723,000 children in Virginia who became eligible after Tuesday’s decision. And national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that only 27% of parents plan to have their children aged 5 to 11 immunized “right away,” making it even less likely that the state will not have enough vaccines to respond to the disease. demand, said Avula (the same poll suggests that three in 10 parents “definitely” do not plan to have their children vaccinated at all).

“The supply will not be a problem,” he added. But state health officials will once again be tasked with match shots to geographic demand. This was a challenge much earlier in the vaccine’s initial rollout, before doses were widely available to all adults in Virginia. At times, clinics in rural areas with low utilization rates were inundated with out of town visitors who were not yet eligible for appointments in their own home health districts.

In an effort to keep up with demand, Avula said the state was tracking its initial distribution of pediatric vaccines to be given to children 12 to 15 years old. About 57.5% of children in this age group have been fully immunized. according to the data from the Virginia Department of Health, but the numbers are highest in areas such as Northern Virginia and Albemarle County (which had one of the highest adoptions of any age).

These areas will also receive the largest distribution of doses for children aged 5 to 11, a decision that at least some preliminary surveys appear to support. In Fairfax County, for example, 76 percent of parents of children in this age group planned to get them vaccinated, based on a survey conducted by the local school system (although only 36 percent of families responded to the survey).

In parts of southwestern Virginia, just under 60% of families expected their children to receive the vaccines, according to Dr. Noelle Bissell, who currently heads the New River, Cumberland Plateau, Lenowisco and Mount Rogers health districts. . Still, she and Forbes Hubbard said a rush in demand from some families could create bottlenecks.

Some shipments still need to be broken down into smaller lots and distributed to local medical offices. And while parents don’t have to pre-register their children with the state – a process that defined the early days of vaccine rollout – many health districts require appointments for children ages five to 11. years in local clinics to make sure they have supplies.

“There will be enough shots, but during those first few weeks, not everyone might be able to get that appointment when they want,” Bissell said. “We ask people to have a little patience. You will be able to get your child vaccinated, but it may not be right away.

A UVA Health worker moves doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to ultra-cold storage. (Courtesy of UVA Health)

Even in districts receiving larger mailings, there may be delays in scheduling appointments in the coming weeks. Dr Michael Martin, president of the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said much of this was due to where most parents would look for dates.

Pediatric vaccines will be widely available from the same providers that offer injections to adults and adolescents, including pharmacies and local health departments. In most areas, health districts also coordinate with public schools to provide clinics.

But some polls, including the Fairfax County survey, have indicated that most parents prefer to have their young children vaccinated by their pediatricians. And Martin, who is based in Northern Virginia, said many practices are still struggling with staffing and a huge demand for services as COVID-19 continues to circulate in schools.

“I think over the next few weeks anyone who wants it will get it,” he said. “But we’re talking about weeks, not days. We still have a backlog, so there’s going to be a bottleneck, even if a firm could get all the supplies they wanted.

Even with some expected delays, doctors and health officials are urging families not to wait for appointments. At the start of the pandemic, cases in children ages 0 to 17 accounted for less than 2% of COVID-19 infections in Virginia. Over the past three months, children have formed more than 20 percent of new infections, with some of the highest numbers among children aged five to 11 who were not previously eligible for the vaccine.

Ten children died of the disease, according to VDH reports, six of them under the age of 10. And although there is currently no evidence that the delta variant is more dangerous to children than earlier versions of the virus, Forbes Hubbard pointed out that pediatric hospitalizations increased in the last wave.

“There are significant health issues, which is why the vaccine has been approved for this age group,” she said. Experts currently do not know if contracting COVID-19 can have long-term effects on children, and at least 103 patients in Virginia have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, which can lead to severe inflammation in various parts of the body.

There are also practical reasons why children should be vaccinated, she said. Under current public health guidelines, vaccinees are not required to self-quarantine after potential exposures. And as the spread still continues in schools, immunizing children can help them avoid missing classes, sports and other events.

“It helps us get back to a more normal school life, a normal working life,” said Forbes Hubbard. “Parents don’t have to miss so much work. And of course, it helps us reduce the overall transmission of the disease, which helps prevent COVID from returning to the community. “



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