PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could soon authorize the emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11, and Rhode Island officials say they’re fully prepared for that eventuality.
Gov. Dan McKee and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health, held a briefing Thursday afternoon at the Providence Children’s Museum where they encouraged parents to consider getting their kids vaccinated and outlined the state’s plans for distributing those doses.
“This opportunity to protect some of our youngest community members against COVID-19 is right around the corner,” McKee said. “Rhode Island will be ready, and I hope you and your family will be ready as well.”
There are roughly 80,000 children in that age group in Rhode Island, according to McKee, and like those ages 12 to 17, parental permission will be required for them to get vaccinated.
Watch: Gov. McKee’s remarks (story continues below)
Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people ages 12 and older. The FDA has scheduled a meeting for Oct. 26 to discuss the company’s proposal to start vaccinating younger children, which involves doses smaller than those given to adults.
Alexander-Scott explained that while the components of the vaccine are the same for all age groups, the formulation is different, so the doses for younger children won’t be available right away. Once the FDA gives approval, which could happen as soon as next month, the new formulation will need to be mass-produced at the federal level, then ordered by states and shipped. She said it will start with limited weekly shipments based on each states’ population.
“What that means for us in Rhode Island is that we’re not going to get 80,000 doses of vaccine for this population all at once right at the beginning. It’s going to take time,” Alexander-Scott said. “But the good news is, by taking time, I simply mean it will take a few weeks for us to get all the doses for this population and distributed effectively.”
Watch: Dr. Alexander-Scott’s remarks (story continues below)
The vaccinations will be distributed primarily at four types of locations: schools, state-run sites, community clinics, and pediatricians’ offices. McKee said the last one will be especially important since they’re the most trusted by families.
The state has reached out to all pediatricians and family physicians, McKee said, and of the 134 practices located in Rhode Island, 81 are either ready to begin vaccinations or are in the process of getting on-boarded.
He also said the state has partnered with the Providence Children’s Museum to offer vaccinations there, along with post vaccination activities.
Alexander-Scott and pediatrician Dr. Beth Lange assured the vaccine is safe and effective for children and urged parents to reach out to their doctors for guidance and to get questions answered.
“Rhode Islanders have a safe, scientifically proven way to prevent COVID infection,” Lange said. “The COVID vaccine is our best hope for ending this pandemic and returning to the normal daily life we all crave.”
“The Pfizer vaccine has undergone rigorous vaccine trials and scientific review, as thorough and as precise as all the other pediatric vaccines,” she added.
Lange said despite the perception that COVID-19 is typically less severe in children, it can be a serious, potentially life-threatening illness for some. Since March 2020, more than 20,000 kids in Rhode Island have been infected, she said, and nearly 300 of those required hospitalization.
“Children and babies less than the age of 5 still cannot be vaccinated, so it is incumbent on all of us to get vaccinated to protect them as well,” Lange noted. “If someone can’t get vaccinated, please continue wearing a mask indoors and in crowded spaces.”
McKee said he’s not considering a vaccine mandate for youth sports at this time.
Watch: Dr. Lange’s remarks (story continues below)
As of Wednesday, roughly 71% of Rhode Island’s population was at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, while more than 65% was fully vaccinated.
The state on Thursday surpassed 1.5 million total vaccine doses administered, as well as 5.5 million total tests performed.
New data released Thursday by the Health Department showed there were 286 new positive cases and three additional COVID-19-related deaths.
Hospitalizations climbed back over 100, with 106 COVID-19 patients currently in the state’s hospital system, of which 11 are in intensive care and seven are on ventilators.
During the briefing, McKee announced that the field hospital on Sockanossett Cross Road in Cranston will be decommissioned.
“Due to the high vaccination rates, low hospital admissions and the declining impact of the delta variant, the facility is no longer considered necessary,” he said. “That’s a very good sign of where we stand in our COVID response and recovery.”
The state will be prepared to reopen the field hospital if necessary, McKee noted.
Watch: Q&A portion of briefing