Sonoma County health officials today unveiled plans to deliver free COVID-19 vaccinations to the roughly 37,000 children in the county between the ages of 5 and 11 as soon as the doses are approved by federal regulators.
Parents will be encouraged to have their children vaccinated at clinics planned for school sites, local pharmacies or the offices of their primary care physicians.
“The data on pediatric doses of COVID-19 vaccines is very promising, and we are prepared to begin vaccinating our children as soon as our nation’s top scientists determine it is safe and effective to do so,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s public health officer. “Our children are too precious to leave them exposed to the virus one minute more than necessary.”
Doctors, health care clinics, schools, pharmacies and public health leaders are working together to educate families about the vaccine and to ensure vaccines are distributed as quickly, safely and equitably as possible, Mase said.
Federal regulators are expected to decide in early November whether to authorize pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. The drugmaker submitted data from clinical trials showing a two-dose regimen of 10 micrograms — one-third of the dosage used for people 12 and older — is safe and generates an effective immune response.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is scheduled to meet Oct. 26 to review the data. If pediatric doses are approved by the FDA, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory group will meet Nov. 2-3 to decide whether to recommend shots for children aged 5 to 11.
In preparation for the decision, the county Department of Health Services is working with local health and education leaders to provide free vaccinations to children as soon as they are authorized.
Families will first be encouraged to seek vaccinations from their pediatrician, healthcare provider or local pharmacy. In partnership with the Sonoma County Office of Education, vaccination clinics also will be set up at designated schools to serve people who do not have convenient or affordable access to healthcare providers.
Priority will be given to schools in areas with high rates of COVID-19, low vaccination rates and large numbers of English-language learners. All doses will be available at no cost to children or their parents. Clinics will be open on evenings and weekends to serve families unable to take time off work to get vaccinated. Doses for teens and adults seeking their first or second shot will be available at the clinics, as well as pediatric doses formulated specifically for children aged 5 to 11.
The Office of Education’s goal is to vaccinate a quarter of the 37,000 children in Sonoma County aged 5 to 11 by Dec. 1. The campaign will seek to vaccinate half of these children by Jan. 31, 2022, and 70 percent by Feb. 28, 2022.
“Vaccinating children is the best way to protect students, school staff and their families from COVID-19,” said Dr. Steve Herrington, Sonoma County superintendent of schools. “And it is the best way to ensure that classrooms stay open.”
In-person instruction is not only crucial for our children’s education, he said, but also for their social and emotional well-being. “After all of the sacrifices our community has already endured during the pandemic, we don’t want any of our students to miss another day of school.”
The FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds in May. Nearly 68 percent of that age group in Sonoma County has now received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Since Sonoma County classrooms began reopening in late July, 586 students and 67 school staffers have tested positive for COVID-19. The majority of cases are in elementary grades and 10 percent have been linked to on-campus transmission. Visit socoemergency.org to view a new dashboard tracking COVID-19 case trends among Sonoma County students and staff.
Nationwide, children accounted for 25.5% of COVID cases during the week ending Oct. 14, even though they make up only 22.2% of the U.S. population. While severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children, they are more likely to be asymptomatic than adults, which allows them to spread the virus to others unknowingly.
The Biden administration on Wednesday announced its plan to distribute pediatric formulations of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, if the doses are approved by the FDA and recommended by the CDC. The federal government has purchased doses for all 28 million U.S. children between the ages of 5 and 11 and will ship them in small lots with essential supplies, like smaller needles designed for children, to facilitate use in clinical settings of all sizes.
Sonoma County health and education leaders are launching an initiative to answer parents’ questions about the vaccine and address their concerns. Communications will include joint webinars hosted by the county Department of Health Services and the Sonoma County Office of Education in English and Spanish to give parents an opportunity to ask questions of local doctors.
“We know that many parents with children under 12 want to ‘wait and see’ before getting their child vaccinated for COVID-19,” Mase said. “Waiting increases the risks to you and your family. We now have more than 10 months of data on vaccinations in our general population. It shows the vaccines are not only safe, but effectively protect people from the most severe forms of illness caused by COVID-19, including death. Vaccinating children 5 and older will not only protect them, but also help protect you and everyone else in your family.”
Next year, the state will add COVID-19 vaccinations to the list of vaccinations required in California — such as measles, mumps and rubella — to attend school. The state expects to phase in the requirements, starting with grades 7-12 and later expanding it to cover grades K-6, after the FDA has fully approved the vaccine for children in the affected age groups.
All residents ages 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated now, with walk-ups for first and second doses accepted at most clinics and pharmacies. Residents also may make appointments at the county’s vaccine clinic page or through the myturn.ca.gov web site. Residents who need help making an appointment are encouraged to call the County COVID-19 hotline at 707-565-4667.
For more information, including the latest vaccine numbers, who’s eligible for a vaccine and how to receive a vaccine, visit SoCoEmergency.org/vaccine, or call 2-1-1.