Watch Dr. Ned Ketyer's interview on Pittsburgh Action News 4. Pittsburgh-region pediatricians and hospital systems are preparing to administer Covid-19 vaccines to children between the ages of six months and five years, following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's go-ahead over the weekend.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' approval, which was endorsed by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, means that up to 20 million children under 5 will be able to receive either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. The vaccines are being shipped to pediatric practices, pharmacies, clinics, health departments and federally qualified health centers beginning this week. "There are a lot of parents who are very happy they can get their kids vaccinated," said Dr. Ned Ketyer, a pediatrician at Allegheny Health Network.
AHN and UPMC said that their pediatric practices were anticipating receiving the vaccine and would, as soon as that happened, begin to set up an appointment system.
There is a three-dose Pfizer vaccine regimen for children under five and a two-dose Moderna vaccine regimen for children under six years old. The Pfizer shot is three micrograms each, a tenth of the adult Pfizer shot. The schedule is a second dose three weeks after the first and then a third shot eight weeks after the second. The Moderna dose, 25 micrograms and a quarter of the adult dose per shot, would be administered 28 days apart.
A news release from the Pennsylvania Department of Health said that the vaccines should start arriving across the state as soon as Tuesday. Pharmacists can provide the vaccines to children three and older but a pediatrician or family doctor would need to be contacted for vaccination of a patient under three. Late last year, children 12 and under were given approval to receive a Covid-19 vaccine regimen and, just recently, given the green light for a booster shot.
In Pennsylvania, 202,002 children ages 5-9 and 315,848 children ages 10-14 have received full doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. About 9,000 children ages 5-9 and 57,500 children ages 10-14 have received a booster in Pennsylvania as of late last week, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. AHN's Ketyer said that the vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective by vaccine manufacturers. "They've been working on this vaccine for some time, but safety was never an issue in their studies," Ketyer said. "All the clinical trials showed the vaccine was safe in kids under 5. What they needed to work out and what took a longer time was how much to give, what dose to give, and how many doses to give."
Ketyer said the vaccine for all ages approved has been highly effective in preventing hospitalizations, serious complications and deaths. He said it wasn't true that young children don't end up with serious complications from Covid-19.
"Their burden from this disease has been enormous," Ketyer said. "Deaths from Covid are much higher compared to other vaccine-preventable diseases" such as chickenpox. Ketyer said more than 1,000 children under the age of 19 have died from Covid-19, including 440 children under the age of four.
"The Covid hospitalization rates were higher in kids who are four and under, during the omicron surge children's hospitals, including Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, were overwhelmed with children who were infected and got sick with the virus," he said.
He said half the hospitalizations in children between six months and four years were in children with no underlying risk factors. Ketyer said vaccines are the most effective way pediatricians can help their patients from developing Covid.
St. Clair Health in a statement applauded the latest CDC recommendation for children under 5.
"We will continue to work together with our community partner Walgreens to ensure children ages 5 to 11 in the Pittsburgh region — and potentially now even younger — have access to the Covid-19 vaccine," St. Clair said.