The U.S. enters a new phase Wednesday in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with shots now available to millions of elementary-age children in what health officials hailed as a major breakthrough after more than 18 months of illness, hospitalizations, deaths and disrupted education.
With the federal government promising enough vaccine to protect the nation's 28 million kids ages 5-11, pediatricians' offices, pharmacies, hospitals, schools and health clinics were poised to begin the shots after the final OK late Tuesday.
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"This is not going to be 'The Hunger Games,'" said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago's public health commissioner, referring to the chaotic early national rollout of adult vaccines nearly a year ago. Chicago expected to have nearly enough vaccine in just the first week for nearly half of its 210,000 school-aged children, and many more doses later on.
"Our goal is to be ready, have a calm rollout,'' Arwady said.
Vaccinations finally are available to U.S. children as young as 5, to the relief of some parents even as others have questions or fears.
Kid-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cleared two final hurdles Tuesday — a recommendation from CDC advisers followed by a green light from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The actions mean sleepovers, playdates and family get-togethers put off for more than a year will be back on the agenda for many kids, along with a chance for fewer school interruptions.
"There are children in the second grade who have never experienced a normal school year," Walensky said. "Pediatric vaccination has the power to help us change all of that."
Thousands of pediatricians pre-ordered doses, and Pfizer began shipments soon after the Food and Drug Administration's decision Friday to authorize emergency use. Pfizer said it expects to make 19,000 shipments totaling about 11 million doses in the next several days, and that millions more will be available to order on a weekly basis.
The vaccine — one-third the dose given to older children and adults and administered with kid-sized needles — requires two doses three weeks apart, plus two more weeks for full protection to kick in. That means children who get vaccinated before Thanksgiving will be covered by Christmas.
"This is a big milestone for 5- to 11-year-olds because they make up nearly 40% of children under 18," said Dr. Jennifer Shu, a Decatur, Georgia, pediatrician, who received her first shipment Tuesday morning.
"The timing before winter holidays is very fortunate," she added. "This age group will be able to spend holidays with friends and family more safely than they have been able to since the start of the pandemic." Read the full story here:
VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS
Patty Nieberg contributed from Denver.
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
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