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California Is Ready To Vaccinate Young Children Against COVID, Say Health Officials

A child in a navy blue jacket and a royal blue mask plays with colorful blocks.
Children between the ages of 5-11 could soon become eligible to receive Pfizer's COVID vaccine.
(Mariana Dale
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California health officials say they’ve ordered enough of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to cover all 3.5 million 5-to-11-year-olds in the state.

On Tuesday, a Food and Drug Administration panel accepted Pfizer’s data indicating the vaccine is safe and 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in the 5-to-11 age group, the first step in issuing an emergency use authorization for the shots.

If the FDA authorizes the vaccine for younger children, another panel of experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could make its own recommendations and offer guidelines next week.

California health officials say it’s urgent to get vaccinations started as soon as possible. Shots for younger children will become available just as more youth are getting sick.

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“Over 6 million U.S. children have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. More than 1 million child cases were added over the past six weeks,” said California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan. “There have been more than 35 pediatric deaths in California alone, and this is more deaths than we see with flu in a very bad season.”

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12 will be given in two doses about three weeks apart. It’s also smaller, containing one-third of the adult dose. FDA officials say there were virtually no severe adverse effects related to the vaccine in clinical trials.

Pan stressed that children who simply contract COVID-19 can have severe outcomes, and that vaccinating children is the best way to protect them from illness.

“In some instances, the virus can cause something called multi-system inflammatory syndrome [MIS-C] in children,” she said. “This is when the immune system basically overreacts and attacks the child's body. Our state alone has seen over 660 of these cases since the end of March last year. Half of them were in intensive care unit and the median age was eight years old.”

Once the Pfizer vaccine receives an emergency use authorization, parents can call their pediatrician or use the state’s vaccine portal, MyTurn, to book an appointment or find a walk-in clinic.

The vaccines are free, regardless of immigration status or health insurance coverage.

You can also call the state's COVID-19 hotline to make a vaccine appointment over the phone. The number is 833-422-4255.

What questions do you have about the pandemic and health care?
Jackie Fortiér helps Southern Californians understand the pandemic by identifying what's working and what's not in our health response.