PORTLAND, Ore. — In Oregon and Washington, kids ages 5-11 years old can get Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine as soon as Nov. 3. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup unanimously found the vaccine is safe and effective for young kids on Wednesday.
The move marks the final hurdle in the process to authorize vaccinations for young kids in Oregon and Washington. Both states, along with Nevada, joined California's COVID-19 Scientific Safety Review Workgroup in October. The group of scientists independently reviewed decisions from federal regulators to recommend the vaccine to 5-11 year-olds.
The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) will inform health care providers that vaccinations can now begin, according to a news release from Gov. Kate Brown's office. In a Wednesday news conference, state epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger said while some providers may begin vaccinating younger children Wednesday, OHA expected most vaccinations for children to begin Thursday at the earliest as providers make preparations.
The kid-sized vaccine is one-third the dose for teens and adults.
"This is great news for Oregon children, parents, and families," said Gov. Brown in a statement. "Vaccination is the best tool we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones. With today’s review by leading doctors, pediatricians, and health experts, Oregon parents and children can be confident in the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds."
OHA said it did not expect the same degree of scarcity as the initial vaccine rollout last spring, but quantities are still limited.
"It's likely supply will keep up with demand, but if not, it'll align in the coming weeks," said Dr. Kristen Dillon, a senior advisor with Oregon Health Authority’s COVID Response and Recovery Unit.
Dillon said as vaccinations ramp up, OHA can assess the demand in different regions and replenish supply where it's needed. Logistical issues seen in the early rollout like securing enough ultracold storage are generally not a problem anymore, Sidelinger said, making it easier to distribute more vaccine supply.
Washington's governor also released a statement about the group's announcement.
"Parents can breathe a sigh of relief that their kids can also be vaccinated against the deadly COVID-19 virus," said Gov. Jay Inslee. "This gets us a step closer to having the entire population of Washington eligible for the vaccine. And a step closer to finding our way out of this pandemic."
School districts in Oregon have been preparing for full approval of the vaccine for the past few months. Portland Public Schools (PPS) said it will host vaccination clinics at eight elementary schools in the coming weeks. Despite PPS considering a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students, Dr. Sidelinger said he did not expect this vaccine to be added to the standard schedule of vaccinations required for children to attend public school.
To find vaccination options outside of primary care clinics, OHA directed people to use the Get Vaccinated Oregon tool, but as of Wednesday afternoon it had not been updated to include doses for 5 to 11-year-olds. OHA said several "high-volume" vaccination sites around the Portland metro area are preparing to open soon.
A spokesperson for OHA said the state has ordered 119,700 doses for kids which are expected to go to 300 sites. The OHA also said the federal government is offering to give pharmacies 60,000 vaccine doses for kids.
OHA encouraged parents to seek out reputable sources of information, especially their children's pediatricians.
"We want to make sure people get their questions answered, that parents get their questions answered, that kids get their questions answered about this vaccine," Sidelinger said. "Talking to your provider, talking to the pharmacist is a great way to get that information."