By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada health officials are expecting to receive 95,000 kid-sized coronavirus vaccines as soon as next week, ahead of the expected final federal approval of the shots for 5- to 11-year-olds.
They are coordinating with pediatricians, family practice clinics and other health care providers to distribute the approved doses produced by Pfizer. A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel endorsed the vaccines for children on Tuesday and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is expected to issue its formal recommendation next week.
“Vaccinating school age children is vital and will help them to have more days in the classroom and fewer interruptions to in-person learning,” state epidemiologist Melissa Peek-Bullock said.
In Nevada, 56% of the population 12 and older is vaccinated against COVID-19. When the state accounts for children — including 276,000 ages 5-11 — the figure drops to 48%. Officials said Thursday that they hope expanded eligibility will help them increase the share of the population that’s been vaccinated.
The coronavirus has slightly subsided among children ages 5-11. In early October, about 122 per 100,000 were testing positive weekly. School cases have declined, but children have still had to miss class, setting off a domino effect of consequences including their parents staying home from work.
Officials said they hoped expanding vaccine eligibility to children would help prevent the virus from spreading to other age groups and prevent community spread. At this stage, they do not plan on considering any school vaccine mandates until full FDA approval of the vaccines for children.
Nevada has historically struggled with some of the country’s lowest influenza vaccination rates, including among children ages 5-12, according to the CDC. This year, the state will encourage newly eligible children to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, based on recommendations from the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.
Candice McDaniel, deputy director for the Department of Health and Human Services, said she hopes the focus on coronavirus vaccines will help the state buoy its influenza vaccination rates.
“Public health as a whole has been highlighted through this response,” she said. “My personal hope, being a public health servant, is that our families across Nevada really value the tools that we have to fight things like like flu.”
Karissa Loper, a Health Bureau Chief in the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, said the health care provider shortages that have made inoculating the population against the flu difficult in the past aren’t as much of an issue with the coronavirus because a lot more are engaged with the state’s highly publicized vaccination efforts.
Based on lessons from efforts to vaccinate against the flu, the state is working to engage pediatricians and family practices to administer doses in their offices and also answer questions at large vaccination events, Loper said.
Health officials are ensuring certain kinds of doctors like pediatricians will be present at the large vaccination sites and events based on lessons from efforts to vaccinate against the flu, she added.
Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.