Now that an FDA panel has recommended permitting the COVID Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11, officials in New Jersey are moving forward with plans to begin offering the shots to kids immediately after the FDA gives its official approval, which is expected next week.

During the COVID update on Wednesday, state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said this vaccine has been found to be extremely safe.

The child-version of Pfizer's shot will be a two-dose regimin but just a third of the dose that adults receive. The Pfizer child shot will be packaged in a different color, with a bright orange cap.

Even though the number of COVID in-school transmission cases in New Jersey remains low and the state rate of transmission and hospitalizations keeps dropping, health officials are urging parents of younger children to get their kids vaccinated as soon as the FDA gives the green light.

State epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan said having kids masked and social distancing in Jersey schools is helping to prevent COVID illness but 11% of cases in the country reported last week were of 5 to 11-year-olds. Among all child cases, 40% are in the 5-11 age group.

There are 760,000 5-to-11 year olds in New Jersey.

'The numbers aren’t large but if it’s your kid you don’t give a hoot about the numbers,' Murphy said.

Tan said there have been more than 5,200 cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children nationally, including about 125 in New Jersey, and about 50 deaths from MIS-C in other states.

“Even though these numbers might seem small, we have a vaccine that’s going to prevent these possible complications in the future, and why would you want to take that chance with your kids?” she said.

Gov. Phil Murphy agreed, pointing out “the numbers aren’t large but if it’s your kid you don’t give a hoot about the numbers, right?”

The governor also said vaccinations for kids are also necessary to reach “our objective of one day being able to lift the mask mandate inside of a school building. It’s hard to do that when you’ve got a lot of the percentage of the population who aren’t eligible for a vaccine.”

Persichilli said 205,000 pediatric doses of Pfizer vaccine have been ordered and locations in all counties will begin receiving supplies as soon as the FDA gives the OK.

She said in addition to the county sites there will also be 1 mega-site, 65 primary care sites, 35 acute care hospitals, eight chain and 40 independent pharmacies, 27 federally qualified health centers, seven local health departments and six urgent care locations receiving pediatric vaccine supplies, and more providers are being added every day.

“Getting our kids eligible for vaccination against COVID will be an absolute game-changer," Murphy said.

 

Persichilli noted all large COVID vaccine distribution sites offering shots to younger children will have a separate pediatric section “that is welcoming to the parents and the kids.”

“We hope to have school endorsed and school-based clinics, for those kids that are used to getting their immunizations at the schools," she added.

Murphy said the FDA’s anticipated approval is an important step forward.

“Getting our kids eligible for vaccination against COVID will be an absolute game-changer, not just for keeping our schools safe, but for further protecting all families,” he said.

Persichilli said approval for the pediatric COVID vaccine could be given next Wednesday night, November 3, and if that’s the case immunizations will be made available in New Jersey the following morning.

She also said right now 62.3% of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 in Jersey have received at least 1 dose of COVID vaccine and “we need to increase that coverage.”

CDC data shows COVID illness among younger children has almost doubled over the past five months, about the time the delta variant began to circulate in many communities in New Jersey and other states.

For the week of October 19 through October 25 a total of 11 new school outbreaks were reported, involving three or more students or school staff, bringing the total to 137 outbreaks in 100 municipalities since the school year began in early September.

There are more than 3,500 schools in New Jersey serving more than 1.5 million students.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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