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Pediatricians prepare to vaccinate youngest Covid-19 shot recipients yet

A delivery of 1,000 Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses arrived at Sandhills Pediatrics in Southern Pines, North Carolina early Monday morning.

Posted: May 11, 2021 11:56 AM
Updated: May 11, 2021 11:57 AM

A delivery of 1,000 Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses arrived at Sandhills Pediatrics in Southern Pines, North Carolina early Monday morning.

Dr. Christoph Diasio, a pediatrician at the office, is preparing to start vaccinating his patients as soon as possible.

The US Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer/BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine for children and teens ages 12-15 Monday. Now Diasio is among the pediatricians preparing to vaccinate the youngest cohort of Covid-19 vaccine recipients yet.

"I think we're moving to a phase of the campaign where now we need to be giving the Covid vaccine like we do the flu vaccine, where it's just a regular part of what we do every day," Diasio told CNN.

His office has a freezer cold enough to store Pfizer's vaccine and staff have received training on how to administer the vaccine and complete the necessary record keeping. Diasio said his office has not yet offered Covid-19 vaccines to patients 16 and older, partially because his community has been able to cover the need with existing vaccine sites.

That is likely to change this week.

Vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet Wednesday to discuss if and how the vaccine should be recommended for use in the younger age group, and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will make the final recommendation.

States regulate medical practice but things should move quickly, said Dr. Peter Marks, director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, the arm of the FDA that regulates vaccines, with shots going into arms as soon as the CDC issues its guidance.

"We would assume they could be as soon as Thursday," Marks told reporters in a briefing Monday evening.

For years now, Diasio's office has been offering routine vaccinations to family members who come in with pediatric patients -- which he says is a common practice among pediatricians nationwide.

He said the practice began as a way to help protect babies who were too young to receive vaccines by vaccinating other household members but has turned into a matter of convenience for many families. He said some of the parents of his patients now look forward to getting their annual flu shot alongside their children every year.

With the Covid-19 vaccine, Diasio hopes it will also be a way to overcome some hesitancy.

"We feel that primary care is going to have a real role with the folks who are a little bit hesitant or just need some questions answered," he said. "Maybe the community, for whatever reason, trusts their family doctor or their pediatrician more than they trust, for example, a corporate pharmacy."

Diasio said he's been asking families about their questions and concerns about the Covid-19 vaccine when they come in for visits. The most common question he's received: How is it that these vaccines were developed so quickly?

Others have questioned why they should have their kids vaccinated when children rarely get severely ill from Covid-19. Diasio said he responds to that one by listing the benefits to the child and the larger community.

"If your kid's vaccinated, and somebody on the bus has Covid, it becomes much less of a big deal," he said.

Quite a few family members have recently called Diasio's office to inquire about when their 12-to-15-year-olds can make an appointment to get vaccinated.

One of those family members is Betsy Saye, who is eager to get her 14-year-old daughter Hannah vaccinated.

Hannah is the youngest member of the family and the only person in the household yet to be immunized. Saye said the decision was a no-brainer because Hannah was born with a heart defect that places her at high risk for Covid-19. Her family decided that the benefits of being protected against the virus outweigh any potential risks associated with the vaccine.

"If she wasn't high risk, we may have thought about it a little more," said Saye. "I think probably ultimately, we would have gotten her vaccinated either way."

She said she's putting her faith in the review and authorization process for the vaccine.

"I would not be truthful if I said I had no concerns. As a parent, you always have concerns," said Saye. "It's nerve racking, thinking of them being on the front lines of a vaccine that hasn't been out there that long, but it wouldn't be out there if it wasn't okay."

Saye said this will benefit the whole family. Hannah will be able to see her grandparents and some friends again, with a little more comfort.

"She can't wait," said Saye.

Many pediatricians who are eager to protect their patients against the virus feel the same way.

"We've been playing defense for 15 months," said Diasio. "It's time to go on offense and end this thing."

As for children even younger than 12, the FDA has scheduled a meeting of its independent vaccine advisers for June 10 to discuss how best to move forward. It's likely more testing and data will be needed before the agency signs off on a new vaccine for young children.

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