Following a recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday officially approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for kids 5 to 11 years old.

Officials say that children across the country can start receiving the shot as early as Wednesday, November 3, with schools and pediatrician’s offices rapidly preparing their supplies and facilities to start vaccinating kids as soon as possible. 

COVID-19 vaccine doses are delivered to NorthShore University HealthSystem. (Photo from NorthShore University HealthSystem)

Each vial will contain a third of the dosage used to vaccinate anyone 12 and older, as clinical trials have shown that a smaller dose still triggers an equal immune response in younger children, according to Dr. Jennifer Kusma, an attending pediatrician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. 

In the coming days and weeks, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 plans to help its students under 12 to get the shot at various locations in the community. Dr. Devon Horton, the district’s superintendent, wrote a letter to families last week about local efforts to vaccinate the younger school-aged population in Evanston.

“In an effort to be proactive, District 65 has been in discussion with the City of Evanston Health and Human Services Department to host a vaccine clinic for children, ages 5-11, as soon as the vaccine is approved and available in our community,” Horton wrote to parents and students. “This event will be hosted in one of our District 65 facilities, most likely at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center. Vaccines will be free and available to all (no insurance required) and regardless of immigration status.”

Horton also noted that demand for vaccine doses for children may exceed the city’s supply at first, but added that the district will hold multiple vaccine clinics or drives. And in an attempt to get ahead of some potential reluctance on the part of parents, he emphasized that the vaccines are safe and effective and encouraged any families who have questions to call local medical providers to have a conversation about their concerns.

Although the impacts here in Evanston remain to be seen, national research shows that the rollout of pediatric vaccines could face significant challenges because of hesitancy among parents, even those who are vaccinated themselves.

According to a recent survey conducted by researchers for a study called The COVID States Project, 34% of parents with children under the age of 12 are somewhat or extremely unlikely to get their kids vaccinated. 

On top of that hesitancy, parental concerns about the safety of vaccinating their children increased significantly between June and September of this year, as the United States grew closer to authorizing COVID-19 vaccines for kids. In June, for example, the project collected data showing that 50% of parents had major concerns about the long-term health effects of vaccinating their children. In September, that number jumped to 65% of parents who had that same concern. 

But both Kusma and District 65 leaders said the community should listen to the concerns of parents and respond thoughtfully with the overwhelming amount of evidence proving the safety and effectiveness of vaccines for kids. 

“It’s the parental instinct to feel concerned or want to know what’s going on before they’re doing something for their child,” Kusma said, “but I don’t have any doubts that this has gone through just as rigorous studies as any other vaccine. And we know that vaccine science is, all together, very safe.” 

Ultimately, vaccinating as much of the under-12 population as possible represents a key step toward possibly reaching a new normal, post-pandemic world. Protecting younger children will also help reduce overall transmission of the virus to adults as well. And even though kids are broadly less likely to get a symptomatic case of COVID-19, some 6.2 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with coronavirus. 

According to Kusma, kids tend to thrive on regular social interaction with other children and adults in a safe and nurturing environment, which they’ve largely lost out on over the last year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic. That change has negatively impacted the mental health of children, but giving kids a chance to get vaccinated will help them get back to a more normal, comfortable version of social-emotional development. 

Webinar for parents

On Wednesday, District 65 also announced plans to host a webinar Nov. 8 featuring Dr. Sharon Robinson, a primary care physician at NorthShore University HealthSystem, to answer questions from families and address any parental concerns about vaccinating their children.

“We’re really excited, and I really do think that kids thrive on a consistent schedule,” Kusma said. “I want kids in school, I want them to get to socialize and I really think this is a great step to be able to do all of those things.”

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Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...