State preparing to administer COVID vaccine to children

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By Paul Hughes, Republican-American

FARMINGTON — In anticipation of emergency federal authorizations, state health officials are preparing to start administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11 as early as Nov. 4.

The federal government has initially allocated 145,100 doses of low-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to state government and retail pharmacies participating in a federal vaccination program in Connecticut, said Dr. Manisha Juthani, the state commissioner of public health.

This initial allocation will be adequate to immunize more than half of the 273,000 children between ages 5 and 11 living in the state. The state is getting 96,900 doses, and the other 48,450 doses are going to retail pharmacies.

The state Department of Health is coordinating with pediatrician offices, pharmacies, school-based health clinics, health care systems and local health departments to inoculate 5- to-11-year olds with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Juthani said during a news conference Oct. 27 with Gov. Ned Lamont.

On Oct. 26, an advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended the emergency authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds. If the FDA authorizes the vaccine for this age group, then U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final recommendation regarding its use.

A CDC advisory panel is meeting Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 to make its own recommendation, and if the outside experts endorse emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for this age group, then CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will have the final say-so.

If all recommendations and approvals go smoothly, Juthani said vaccine providers in Connecticut will be ready to start immunizing children ages 5 through 11 as soon as Nov. 4.

Lamont reiterated Oct. 27 that there are no plans to mandate students age 5 and above get vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend private and public schools in Connecticut while coronavirus vaccines only have emergency use authorizations.

“We’re going to encourage kids to get vaccinated. They can only get vaccinated with the permission of a parent, and no thoughts of making it a mandate,” he said.

Lamont was less clear on the question of whether he would stand in the way of school districts imposing a local vaccine mandate.

“I don’t think we’re there yet, but I can tell you from a state point of view we are going to do everything we can to encourage the child vaccinations, with the parental permission at their discretion,” he said.

Lamont also maintained his wait-and-see posture concerning the possibility of mandating coronavirus vaccinations following full federal authorization of vaccines for pediatric use.

“I think we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.

Lamont said CDC statistics show that slightly more than 90% of Connecticut residents age 18 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, and he wants to see the same vaccination rate among eligible children.

Even with the availability of vaccines to school-aged children, Lamont said he foresees the contentious school mask mandate remaining in place into early 2022.

“I don’t think we are there yet. The kids are not vaccinated yet. Then, you’ve got the holidays, and there is a lot of mixing and matching, and vacations,” he said. “So, I think we’d be strict early into the new year, but then we’d have to see what the situation is, see what the community spread is.”

The state’s seven-day average of 67.3 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population on Oct. 21 was the third lowest out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to the CDC.

With the 337 new cases reported Oct. 27, there have been 401,176 laboratory-confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 recorded since early March 2020, including 77,029 cases involving patients under age 20.

State officials reported Oct. 27 there were 194 patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide, a decrease of eight from Oct. 26.

There have been 8,721 coronavirus-associated deaths, according to the most recent reported totals.

There have been 4,125 cases in Naugatuck, 1,104 in Prospect and 673 in Beacon Falls since last March, according to officials.

There have been 102 coronavirus-associated deaths in Naugatuck, six in Beacon Falls and five in Prospect, according to the most recent reported totals.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.