December 02, 2021

Gov. Pritzker outlines how Illinois is preparing for 5- to 11-year-olds to get their COVID-19 vaccines

When can kids get vaccinated? Will the state have enough doses right away?

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker gave an overview Monday of how the state is preparing to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-old children after a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized and able to be distributed to the state.

When can kids get vaccinated?

More than 1.1 million children in the state could be come eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as the middle of next week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisers, the independent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, has a meeting scheduled for Nov. 2 and 3 to discuss COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11 years old. Pfizer has submitted all of its paperwork for emergency use authorization for this vaccine for this age group.

Federal health regulators said late Friday that kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections in elementary school children and caused no unexpected safety issues.

If approved, children could begin receiving vaccinations early next month -- with the first youngsters in line fully protected by Christmas.

Unlike the rollout of the vaccine for adults in December 2020, vaccine supply will not be an issue, Pritzker said.

The state will receive an initial shipment of 500,000 vaccine doses and another 100,000 doses will go to pharmacies in the state, the governor said Monday. A total of 2,200 pediatric providers have been enrolled to receive and give the vaccine.

“Illinois will receive a robust supply right from the start,” Pritzker said, adding that he expected the state to have the doses “in hand” by early to mid-next week.

Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike urged parents to call their child’s pediatrician to make sure the pediatrician’s office is enrolled and will have supply.

“Start with your pediatrician,” Pritzker said. “IDPH has reached out to every pediatrician in the state. As a parent, you should call your pediatrician now to make sure they are enrolled and have ordered doses.”

While doses may be available on day one, or that weekend, Nov. 6 and 7, in a local pharmacy or pediatrician’s office, Ezike said IDPH was working on a variety of ways for children to get vaccinated.

That includes parent-approved events at local schools or park districts.

Those events would not start until the week of Nov. 8 and likely not on that Monday.

“We have to have multiple ways to do this,” Ezike said. “Some people will be comfortable having an event at school. We’ll have pediatricians on hand to answer questions. We’re trying to create different options for different parents.”

Questions about the vaccine

A Food and Drug Administration review found no new or unexpected side effects, which mostly consisted of sore arms, fever or achiness that teens experience.

However, FDA scientists noted that the study wasn’t large enough to detect extremely rare side effects, including myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose.

Dr. Jihad Shoshara, a Naperville pediatrician, said Monday that it’s critical that children get vaccinated in order to move past this pandemic.

“Whenever I council parents about vaccine, I always tell them I would not give them a vaccine I would not give my own children. I am now grateful that we can extend the vaccine to younger children,” Shoshara said.

Dr. Michelle Barnes, a pediatrician with University of Illinois in Chicago Hospital Health Sciences System who spoke Monday, encouraged parents who have questions about the vaccine to ask their pediatrician.

“We want you know that vaccines are safe. Vaccines do their job. The COVID-19 vaccine will teach your child’s immune system how to recognize and fight COVID-19,” Barnes said. “People who are vaccinated also protect those who cannot be vaccinated.

Ezike also encouraged parents to visit reputable websites when trying to get their own questions answered, in addition to talking to a pediatrician.

The Pfizer vaccine consists of two doses given three weeks apart followed by a two-week wait for maximum immunity. To further ensure the health and safety of Illinois children, the state is requiring current, mandatory trainings for all vaccine providers on the pediatric vaccination guidelines.

While Pfizer will likely be the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for children, it may not be the only one. Moderna said its low-dose COVID shot works for kids 6 to 11. Moderna hasn’t yet gotten the nod to offer its vaccine to teens but is studying lower doses in younger children while it waits.

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, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta variant surged, the American Academy of Pediatrics said.

The Biden administration has purchased enough kid-size doses — in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine — for the nation’s 5- to 11-year-olds. If the vaccine is cleared, millions of doses will be promptly shipped around the country, along with kid-size needles.

“I am urging every single parent or guardian to do this for their child,” Ezike said. “Make a plan to get them vaccinated for COVID-19.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

John Sahly

John Sahly

John Sahly is the digital editor for the Shaw Media Local News Network. He has been with Shaw Media since 2008, previously serving as the Northwest Herald's digital editor, and the Daily Chronicle sports editor and sports reporter.