The local Blue Ridge Health Districts expects to begin immunizing children between ages 5-11 within two weeks — but there won’t be enough of the smaller pediatric doses for all area kids.
At least not right away.
“We’re asking for a little patience in the beginning,” Dr. Denise Bonds, director of the Blue Ridge Health District, said at a recent virtual town hall to discuss the rollout. “People shouldn’t panic about getting this vaccine, it’s only limited in the initial rollout. Just like as we remember back to the initial rollout, there was limited adult vaccines early on until the production got up to the correct amount.”
Health officials expect the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to approve the Pfizer vaccine for the 5-11 age group sometime next week.
An expert panel for the FDA on Tuesday recommended the agency approve the vaccine for children, and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will meet Tuesday and Wednesday to review the vaccines safety and efficacy for that age group.
Assuming approval is granted, the local health district plans to begin offering appointments for children between 5-11 years old on Nov. 9.
In the first three weeks, Blue Ridge will receive 6,300 pediatric doses — which are considerably smaller than the normal adult doses of Pfizer vaccine.
“And we can’t dilute it down, unfortunately,” Bonds said. “We can’t take an adult dose and dilute it down to the correct size. We must use the pediatric dose on the 5-11 years olds.”
Local health officials believe there are roughly 15,000 children between the ages 5-11 in the health district. That district includes Charlottesville, and the counties of Albemarle, Nelson, Greene, Louisa and Fluvanna.
UVA Health will receive its own allotment of 6,600 pediatric vaccines, which it will distribute at its offices and through its homebound vaccination program.
Additionally, some area pharmacies will receive a limited supply of pediatric doses from the federal government. Bonds said parents can visit www.vaccines.gov to see which nearby pharmacy has a supply.
The health district will offer the vaccine to children by appointment only. Parents can make an appointment using the Virginia Department of Health’s Vaccine Scheduling System, or VASE+.
Many of the initial vaccination sites will be mobile, drive-thru clinics that the district will set up in local schools and in certain neighborhoods, said Jen Fleisher, the COVID planning and communication lead at the BRHD. They will also be available at the community vaccination center at Seminole Square.
The mobile locations are not yet finalized. The district has made a survey for parents to determine who wants to vaccinate their children — and where. It will use results from that survey to determine initial vaccination sites.
All sites will be available to select from when appointments open in the VASE+ system on Nov. 9, Fleisher said.
The district is asking that only parents of children considered “high risk” register for appointments in the first three weeks.
Children are considered high risk if they have an underlying medical condition that would mean they are more likely to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19. Those conditions include chronic lung disease, obesity, a neurologic disease, a blood disorder, chronic metabolic disease or are immunocompromised.
Kids are also considered high risk if they live with someone who has an underlying medical condition or if their parents’ job is “public facing” and thus has more exposure to the virus.
Data on COVID-19 related hospitalizations in children show that a higher percentage of Black, American Indian and Hispanic kids are hospitalized and die from COVID-19 than white children, said Ryan McKay, the health district’s COVID-19 incident commander.
To reach more children in these demographics, the health district plans to hold vaccine events in various neighborhoods throughout the district.
“By removing barriers and distributing the vaccine across the district as opposed to asking people to come to centralized locations we believe that this is the greatest opportunity to get the most children access to the vaccine that also prevents risk to others,” McKay said.