Doctors, nurses and other providers have now started the big task of putting COVID-19 shots in the arms of half a million of the smallest Marylanders.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that state health officials had authorized providers in the state to immediately begin scheduling appointments, holding clinics and vaccinating young children ages 5 to 11; and health officials are making a big push for local school systems to offer vaccination clinics directly in schools to reach the most children.
Hogan said all 24 local school systems in Maryland have agreed to hold clinics in their schools. There are an estimated 515,000 5-to-11-year-olds in Maryland.
The governor’s news conference came the day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in young children.
“I know that many parents are relieved and they have been looking forward to this day for many months, and they’ve already decided to move forward immediately to protect their kids to avoid unnecessary outbreaks and disruptive quarantines and help keep kids in school,” said Hogan, who encouraged parents with questions about vaccinating their children to talk to their doctors.
Officials are expecting an ample supply of special kid-sized doses of the Pfizer vaccine for use in the 5-to-11 population, but also say they are expecting potentially high demand initially.
Maryland has requested 181,000 doses for the first three weeks of the rollout, and some 63,000 doses have already arrived or are in transit.
The Pfizer pediatric doses — which are about one-third of the dosage given to adults — come in smaller vials and have orange instead of purple caps, so providers don’t mix them up.
“Obviously, we want to try to do things as expeditiously as possible,” Hogan said. “We also want people to make sure that they’re confident and comfortable and that they get their questions answered. We don’t think it’s going to happen overnight … but we’re going to stick to it until we get everybody who wants a shot to get one.”
Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said the state’s plans for distributing vaccine doses to 5-to-11-year-olds is based on models from the state’s rollout of the vaccine over the summer for 12-to-15-year-olds. With that age group, there was an initial “surge” in demand, and about one-third of eligible kids were vaccinated before flattening out.
“This will take many, many weeks to get because we’ve got to reach people. That’s one of the reasons we’re encouraging the schools to hold clinics, and if that’s effective and we get parents’ consent, that could change the curve,” Schrader said.
Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan stressed that the vaccines are safe with minimal side effects, and they are more than 90% effective at preventing severe COVID-19 in children. While kids are less likely to get seriously ill with COVID-19, since the start of the pandemic, 700 Maryland children younger than 12 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, she said.
And as older adults have been overwhelmingly vaccinated, the state has seen increasing COVID-19 cases in children. At the beginning of the year, about 6% of COVID-19 cases involved children younger than 10. Now, it’s 14%, Chan said.
Two Maryland pediatricians who appeared with Hogan and the state health officials praised the authorization of the vaccine for young children.
Dr. Monique Soileau-Burke, vice president of the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, called Wednesday “the day that parents and pediatricians have been waiting for, for a really long time.”
Soileau-Burke said she has seen her young patients suffering over the last 20 months, including a special needs patient admitted in the intensive care unit with COVID-19-related pneumonia and a 14-year-old patient who has “long COVID” a year after her initial diagnosis.
“Even my patients who escaped infection haven’t escaped the suffering, developmental delays, social anxiety, depression and the loss of part of their childhood. They’ve missed field trips and sleepovers and family gatherings. And today, we have the opportunity to give it all back to them,” Soileau-Burke said.
Dr. Michael Zollicoffer said with the vaccine OK’d for young children, “We now have that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” adding, “Parents, you have the chance to save your children.”
- Sign up for WTOP alerts
- Sign up for WTOP’s coronavirus email newsletter
- Latest coronavirus test results in DC, Maryland and Virginia
- Latest COVID-19 vaccination numbers in DC, Maryland and Virginia