Vaccines that protect children ages 5 to 11 against COVID are likely coming soon to a doctor’s office, pharmacy or school near you — and medical professionals are bracing for an initial rush of interest.
“There are a lot of parents who are very anxious to have their children vaccinated,” said Dr. Mindy Calandro, a pediatrician with Baton Rouge Clinic.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee voted Tuesday to recommend offering the vaccine to that age group. Several hurdles remain, but final approval could come as soon as next week.
In anticipation of that federal approval, Louisiana has ordered 148,000 initial doses of the Pfizer kids vaccine, which is a third the dosage of the adult version. Those initial doses are enough to start immunizations for about 35% of the estimated 421,000 children in the state aged 5 to 11.
The expansion of vaccination eligibility should give a much needed boost to the low vaccination rate in Louisiana, where only about 47% of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
It is also likely to prove a boon to schools, offering the prospect of full protection for everyone inside school buildings, not just educators and older schoolchildren.
Even so, with a few exceptions, Louisiana schools are taking a cautious approach to vaccine promotion, leaving the bulk of the effort to medical professionals. That’s partially deference to the judgement of parents, but also a way of avoiding getting ensnared in the rancorous political fight over COVID vaccinations.
Dr. Calandro said she and other pediatricians at Baton Rouge Clinic will be ready to meet the initial high demand. But they are not booking appointments yet for children to get their shots.
“We certainly want to get approval before we start doing the scheduling,” she said.
When it comes to vaccinations, school-aged children in Louisiana lag behind older age groups.
Among 12-to-17-year-olds, who have all been eligible for vaccination since May, only about 40% have received at least one shot. Louisiana is 45th in the nation by that measure, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. At least two states, Vermont and Massachusetts, have 80% or more of their children that age partially vaccinated.
Dr. Calandro said interest in child vaccinations grew noticeably over the summer as the fourth wave of the virus crashed across Louisiana, powered by the more infectious delta variant.
“Since delta we have seen more children who have gotten sick, and some significantly ill, so it has been more in the forefront of the minds of parents than it was earlier in the pandemic,” she said.
Still, interest remains limited, confined mostly to the New Orleans, and, to a lesser extent, the Baton Rouge area.
Orleans Parish leads the state with 75% of its 12-to-17-year-olds getting at least one shot, with Jefferson following behind with 64%.
By contrast, small, rural parishes have the lowest levels of vaccinations. In 18 out of the state’s 64 parishes, less than a quarter of the 12-to-17 year-olds are partially vaccinated. In Cameron Parish, that rate is only 11%.
In the Baton Rouge region, four parishes, including East Baton Rouge, have more than half of their eligible children at least partially vaccinated. Livingston Parish is last in the region with only about 28% of its 12-to-17-year-olds at least partially vaccinated.