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Maryland officials expect a third of 5-11 year olds will get vaccine in first few weeks

Maryland officials said Wednesday they expect about a third of children ages 5 to 11 to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the next three to four weeks, following federal approval Tuesday night of Pfizer-BioNTech’s shots. 

That means officials anticipate about 170,000 of the state’s 515,000 5-11 year olds will receive their first vaccine doses soon.

“They, like all of us, have been at risk of contracting COVID-19 over the last 20 months, and it’s now their turn, and our responsibility to be able to ensure that parents have the information they need to get their children vaccinated,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health. 

The state has ordered an initial 180,000 vaccine doses for the kids. The first 63,000 doses have arrived or are on their way, said Maryland Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader said Wednesday.

The proportion of COVID-19 cases among younger Maryland residents who have not been eligible for vaccination has increased during 2021, Dr. Chan said. At the beginning of the year, about 6% of COVID-19 cases were among those younger than 10 years old. But that share has risen to about 14% of new cases in recent months.

Children ages 5 to 11 are supposed to receive two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine three weeks apart, but at about a third of the size of an adult dose. 

Mr. Schrader said officials expect one-third of 5-11-year-olds to get their shots quickly based on the state’s experience with 12-15-year-olds after federal regulators approved a vaccine for them. After the initial surge of vaccinations, the number of people getting shots tends to flatten out, Mr. Schrader said. 

All 24 school systems in the state will host COVID-19 vaccine clinics, said Gov. Larry Hogan, in addition to shots being provided by doctors, pharmacies and county health departments. He added the state will provide more staffing to school systems and local jurisdictions as needed. 

“Ultimately, this decision is up to and should be up to Maryland parents and families. I know many parents are relieved and have been looking forward to this day for many months,” Mr. Hogan said. “I also know there are some parents who want to do what’s best for their children but who still have questions and concerns that they need answers to. It is important that they get all those questions answered.” 

He strongly encouraged concerned parents to talk to their pediatricians or family physicians about the vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday approved of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5-11 year olds. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky authorized the vaccine hours after an advisory panel voted unanimously to give the shots to younger children. 

The shots proved to be about 91% effective against COVID-19 disease in clinical trials, data shows. 

Dr. Chan said children might experience common side effects after receiving the vaccine such as pain and swelling, mild fever, chills, headache and fatigue, which she described as “normal signs” that the vaccine is doing its job. 

The side effects from the coronavirus vaccine are less severe than getting COVID-19, she noted.

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