COVID-19 vaccines for young children are potentially days away from being rolled out in Santa Clara County, a critical step to ending the pandemic.
On Tuesday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recommended a low dosage of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, saying the benefits of the shot outweigh any potential risks. The two-dose pediatric shot—one-third the adult dosage—is more than 90% effective, according to Pfizer.
The FDA is expected to make a decision on the vaccine for children in the near future, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will weigh in on the shot next week. If approved, roughly 28 million kids in the nation—and 167,000 in Santa Clara County—will become vaccine-eligible.
Santa Clara County officials have planned for weeks to welcome some of the youngest residents to its vaccination sites for a shot, said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, COVID-19 vaccine officer.
“During this pandemic, children have not been spared from COVID-19,” Fenstersheib said. “Vaccinating these children will keep them even safer in school and during their school activities, and their activities at home with their families.”
The kid-size vaccines are coming at the time where infections and hospitalizations caused by the Delta variant are dropping sharply. Santa Clara County is seeing a seven-day rolling average of 137 cases as of Wednesday. That number was approximately 364 in late August.
The county has ordered 55,000 pediatric shots from the federal government in anticipation of high demand from residents. Approximately 11,000 doses will be available at local pharmacies. Fenstersheib said the county is also working to bring vaccine clinics to schools.
“We have kids going to school right now and we are doing very well,” Fenstersheib said. “We haven’t seen many cases in schools (because) they are wearing masks and eating socially distanced, but this is just the next level of protection.”
Local schools have seen low numbers of infections among students. East Side Union High School District, with a population of more than 22,000 students, has reported 145 cases among students since August. Oak Grove School District reported 86 cases among nearly 9,000 elementary kids since the beginning of the school year.
Vaccinating young kids is crucial for the region to reach its herd community, potentially ending a pandemic of more than 18 months, said George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology at UC San Francisco.
“This will cut down on community transmission, which is one of the things we’ve been trying to do,” Rutherford told San José Spotlight. “This magic number of herd immunity—somewhere in the 80% range. That’s 80% of everybody, not of people who are vaccine-eligible.”
As of Wednesday, approximately 85.2% of Santa Clara County residents age 12 and up, or 1.46 million people, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That drops to about 73.2% when including all age groups.
In order to hit the 80% vaccination rate threshold to remove masks indoors in Santa Clara County, about 55% of the kid population needs to be vaccinated, Fenstersheib said.
Children tend to develop milder symptoms when infected by COVID-19 such as low-grade fever, fatigue and cough, health experts said. Kids should expect to have sore arms and possibly fatigue from the shots. The county wants all children to get vaccinated, Fenstersheib said.
The coronavirus continues to pose a threat for children. According to a CDC official, COVID is the eighth-highest killer of kids in this age group over the past year. Roughly 8,300 U.S. children ages 5-11 have been hospitalized with COVID. Nearly 100 have died since March 2020.
“This has been long awaited,” Rutherford said. “I think in the Bay Area we’re going to see high uptakes (of the vaccines).”