A delivery of 1,000 Pfizer / BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine doses arrived early Monday morning at Sandhills Pediatrics in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
Dr. Christoph Diasio, an in-office pediatrician, is preparing to start vaccinating his patients as soon as possible.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Pfizer / BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for children and teens ages 12-15 Monday. Now Diasio is one of the pediatricians preparing to vaccinate the youngest cohort of Covid-19 vaccine recipients to date.
“I think we’re going to a phase of the campaign where we now have to give the Covid vaccine like we do the flu vaccine, where it’s just a regular part of what we do every day,” Diasio told CNN.
His office has a freezer that is cold enough to store Pfizer’s vaccine, and staff are trained in how to administer the vaccine and fill out necessary information. Diasio said his office has not yet offered Covid-19 vaccines to patients 16 and older, in part because his community has been able to cover the need with existing vaccine sites.
That is likely to change this week.
Vaccine advisers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet on Wednesday to discuss whether and how the vaccine should be recommended for use in the younger age group, and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky will make the final recommendation.
States regulate medical practice, but things should move quickly, said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, the FDA’s arm that regulates vaccines, with shots fired once the CDC gives her advice.
“We assume they will be there on Thursday evening,” Marks said during a briefing Monday evening.
Diasio’s office has been offering routine vaccinations to family members who come with pediatric patients for years – which he says is common practice among pediatricians across the country.
He said the practice began as a way to help protect babies too young to receive vaccines by vaccinating other members of the household, but has become a matter of convenience for many families. He said some of his patients’ parents are now looking forward to getting their annual flu shot along with their kids every year.
With the Covid-19 vaccine, Diasio hopes it will also be a way to overcome some hesitation.
“We think primary care will play a real role in the people who are a little hesitant or just need an answer,” he said. “Perhaps, for whatever reason, the community trusts their GP or their pediatrician more than they trust, such as a company pharmacy.”
Diasio said he has asked families about their questions and concerns about the Covid-19 vaccine when they visit. The most common question he’s been asked: How come these vaccines were developed so quickly?
Others wondered why they should get their children vaccinated if children rarely become seriously ill from Covid-19. Diasio said he responds by listing the benefits to the child and the wider community.
“Once your child has been vaccinated and someone on the bus has Covid, it becomes much less important,” he said.
Many family members have recently called Diasio’s office to inquire when their 12-15 year olds can make an appointment to get vaccinated.
One of those family members is Betsy Saye, who would like to vaccinate her 14-year-old daughter Hannah.
Hannah is the youngest member of the family and the only person in the household who has yet to be vaccinated. Saye said the decision was a good idea because Hannah was born with a heart defect that puts her at high risk for Covid-19. Her family decided that the benefits of protecting against the virus outweigh the potential risks of the vaccine.
“If she wasn’t at high risk, we might have thought about it a little more,” Saye said. “I think we would have vaccinated her eventually anyway.”
She said she has confidence in the vaccine review and authorization process.
“I wouldn’t be fair if I said I wasn’t worried. As a parent, you always worry,” said Saye. “It’s nerve-racking when I think they’re on the front line of a vaccine that hasn’t been around for very long, but it wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t okay.”
Saye said this will benefit the whole family. Hannah will be able to see her grandparents and some friends again, with a little more comfort.
“She can’t wait,” said Saye.
Many pediatricians eager to protect their patients from the virus think the same.
“We’ve been on the defensive for 15 months,” said Diasio. “It’s time to take offense and end this.”
As for children even under the age of 12, the FDA has scheduled a meeting of its independent vaccine advisers for June 10 to discuss how best to proceed. It’s likely that more testing and data will be needed before the agency signs a new vaccine for young children.