Massachusetts preps for Nov. vaccine rollout to kids

Officials expect 360,000 doses, enough to immunize 70% of 5 to 11-year-olds

MASSACHUSETTS EXPECTS to receive 360,000 doses of the pediatric Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by November 5, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said Thursday.  

Unlike the initial vaccine rollout to adults, when vaccines were scarce, Sudders said the initial allocation will be enough to vaccinate 70 percent of the approximately 515,000 children ages five to 11 who are likely to become eligible for the vaccine in the coming weeks.  

“It’s a completely different time than it was, it feels like a lifetime ago, when vaccines first rolled out and there was a very restricted supply,” Sudders said. “The federal government assured states there is enough supply for pediatric vaccines.” 

The White House has said children ages five to 11 are likely to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer by the first week in November, assuming the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dsign off on the safety and efficacy of the shots. An FDA  advisory panel meets October 26, and a CDC advisory committee will meet November 2-3 to decide whether to approve the vaccine. Children under five will not yet be eligible. The dose given to children will be smaller than the dose given to adults and teenagers. 

At a legislative hearing Thursday, state health officials rolled out their plans for distributing the shots. 

There won’t be mass vaccination centers for kids. Rather, the shots will be given primarily at traditional health care facilities, pharmacies, and through mobile clinics, which will be available to schools that request them.  

According to Sudders, 289 health care providers have expressed interest to the Office of Health and Human Services in giving the shots at 700 different locations. These include hospitals, doctor offices (including pediatricians), local boards of health, community health centers, and regional collaboratives in Berkshire and Barnstable counties. 

More information is expected to become available next week about how to make an appointment to get a vaccine, and which locations are offering walk-ins. 

Sudders said the state has had 89 mobile clinics available, which can be set up at locations statewide upon request. It ramped that number up to 120 in advance of the pediatric vaccine rollout, anticipating that mobile clinics might be requested by schools. On any one day, the state can staff ten to 20 mobile clinics. A similar program is already in place allowing schools to request vaccine clinics for students over age 12. 

Sudders said one county, which she did not name, still does not have any providers interested in administering pediatric vaccines, and the state will step in to offer shots through its own clinics if necessary. “If there are no providers, we’ll come and do the vaccine,” Sudders said. 

There will be 180,000 doses available for the 289 health care providers, and another 180,000 doses that the federal government will give directly to retail pharmacies, through the same federal pharmacy program that distributed adult vaccines. Sudders said there are currently 479 pharmacies offering the Pfizer shots, and she expects a subset will offer pediatric vaccines, though she does not yet know at which locations. 

Eliminating some of the logistical hurdles that burdened the rollout of adult vaccines, the pediatric vaccines will not require ultra-cold storage, but can be stored in normal refrigerators for up to 10 days. They will come in boxes of 300 doses to start with, and will soon come in boxes of 100 doses, as opposed to the adult vaccines which came in 1,975-dose boxes, creating storage and distribution challenges.  

So far, Massachusetts has vaccinated more than 4.7 million people over age 12, with 78.8 percent of the eligible population fully vaccinated and more than 90 percent having gotten one dose, Sudders said. Sudders said her hope is that 90 percent of the 360,000 pediatric doses are distributed within 30 days. 

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

But it remains to be seen what level of interest there will be among parents in vaccinating their children. Children tend to get less severely ill and are less likely to die of COVID-19 than older adults, although children do get infected and small numbers of children have gotten seriously sick.  

Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke said the state is modifying an existing public relations campaign to target parents and encourage them to vaccinate their children. The Department of Public Health will provide schools, athletic departments, and parent organizations with sample letters that they can send to parents with information about how to get the vaccines.