Montgomery County health officials said that distribution of booster shots for residents ages 5 to 11 could begin as soon as this weekend or next week.
Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, told reporters Wednesday that the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use authorization for a booster of the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds earlier this week.
Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to meet Thursday to decide whether to grant permission for state and local health officials to begin administering the boosters to that age group, he added.
O’Donnell said he’s optimistic the CDC will approve the use, given that the FDA’s approval for that age group came fairly quickly. County officials currently have just a “limited supply” of doses, numbering in the hundreds, of the Pfizer vaccine for the age group because they don’t want to end up wasting doses due to expiration, he added.
Health officials are hopeful the vaccine dosage for Pfizer boosters will be the same as the first two shots for children in that age group. That way, local health officials will be able to administer boosters at schools and county health clinics as soon as this weekend or by next week, O’Donnell said.
“We’ll be ready to go immediately,” he said. “The question is: When will we get an additional supply of vaccines so we can do a larger number [of people]?”
Private providers, including pediatricians, will also administer the boosters alongside the public sector, O’Donnell said.
James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, said Wednesday that the Maryland Department of Health also will be providing technical and administrative guidance to counties and private providers on how to best distribute the boosters.
Health officials shared data Wednesday that showed that as many as 66% of residents ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
That’s lower than other age groups in the county — including the percentage of children ages 12 to 17. More than 90% of that age group have been fully vaccinated. Of those 65 years and older, 95% are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
O’Donnell said the lower “fully vaccinated” percentage for children ages 5 to 11 mirrors a national trend, in which that data point decreases as each eligible age group is able to get vaccinated.
“Some of that is likely because of lower risk for serious illness [for 5- to 11-year-olds], and so lower perceived risk may mean that there’s less urgency to get the vaccine,” O’Donnell said.
However, according to a CNN article from late March, less than 10% of children ages 5 to 11 were fully vaccinated in about half of counties across the U.S.
O’Donnell said the county’s higher rate for that age group may be due to the education level of county residents as well as the location of the national health care infrastructure in the county — including the FDA, National Institutes of Health and other agencies.
But word-of-mouth can impact the number of people getting vaccinated depending on the political climate of a given area, he said.
“I do think that there’s definitely a word-of-mouth phenomenon that we’re seeing, where when communities talk to each other in social settings [and ask] … ‘Did you get vaccinated? Did you get your kids vaccinated?’, ” he said. “Once you start seeing people do that, there’s less resistance. It probably works the opposite way too, if you’re in a community where there’s not a strong belief in vaccinations, it probably works against it.”
Bridgers added that the county’s Department of Health and Human Services has a team of epidemiologists, research scientists, internists, specialists and pediatric doctors who help explain to residents why vaccines are safe and effective.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org