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How ready are local officials to roll out COVID vaccine to young children?
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Northeast Georgia Health System holds their first COVID-19 vaccine clinic Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, NGHS Corporate Plaza for those 65 and older. - photo by Scott Rogers

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Federal regulators will meet in the coming weeks to decide whether to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, and local health organizations are planning for a rollout. 

“We've already started preparing,” said Dr. Alix Schnibben, director of quality and ambulatory pharmacy for the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group. “We already have all of our syringes on hand and enough supply to take care of our patients.”

The Food and Drug Administration will meet Oct. 26 to decide on authorization, though final approval must come from the Centers for Disease Control, whose vaccine advisory panel is scheduled to meet Nov. 2 and 3. 

“If and when that occurs, we’ll be ready to offer it to families, just as we’ve done for those with children 12 and older,” said Pam Patterson, Longstreet Clinic Pediatrics administrator. “Our providers believe that vaccines are essential for disease prevention and are excited we may soon be able to offer enhanced protection to all school-aged children.”

Once approved, youngsters would complete a regimen of two doses equaling one-third the amount given to those 12 and older. The vaccines would be shipped in smaller 100-dose packages and would not require ultra-cold storage. 

Six million children in the U.S. have been infected with the coronavirus, one million of them since early September as the highly contagious delta variant grew to account for the vast majority of new cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

To supply the 28 million children who would become eligible following approval, the U.S. has purchased 65 million doses of the Pfizer pediatric vaccine, White House officials have said, and about 15 million doses will be shipped to providers across the country in the first week. 

Even before the White House announced its rollout plans on Wednesday, the Northeast Georgia Health System had been working with its community partners to ensure that they will be able to keep up with the increase in demand. Those partners include the Department of Public Health, pediatric clinics and school districts.

“We have ordered enough to take care of our current patient population, and then estimated a 20% increase to be able to take care of the community,” Schnibben said. “Supply of the vaccine, as well as administration supplies, is not a concern, and working and communicating with our community partners to make sure that we're all prepared has been a goal within our organization.” 

Schnibben said health officials meet every Friday morning to make plans for vaccine rollout and community outreach. NGHS then places a new vaccine order the following Monday, she said. 

“Demand has been there from the beginning, everybody's been worried about their children since the original vaccine came out,” Schnibben said. “All I can say is that we're going to have plenty of supply to take care of the demand.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this article