Kansas health officials launching COVID-19 vaccination program for children ages 5-11

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TOPEKA — The state of Kansas expects to receive 128,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week to begin the process of voluntarily inoculating children ages 5 to 11 following the federal government’s approval of a shot for younger kids, Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday.

Approximately 260,000 children in Kansas fall into that age category and would be eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was endorsed for that age group by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gov. Laura Kelly said the state would adhere to new recommendations from FDA and CDC for distribution of Pfizer vaccine.

“We have been anticipating this exciting development for some time,” Kelly said during a meeting of her Safer Classrooms Workgroup. “The most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is through vaccination.”

The governor said half the initial shipment of vaccine for the 5-11 age group would be sent to larger health providers and county health departments that ordered vaccine in 300-dose packages. The other half in this distribution wave will be sent out in smaller packages to family physicians, community health centers and other health providers, she said.

‘Beat this virus’

So far, 2,400 providers scattered among the 105 counties of Kansas have agreed to assist with distribution of vaccine. The governor urged more school districts to serve as temporary vaccination sites.

Youth of 12 to 17 were previously approved for injection of the Pfizer vaccine. Individuals 18 and older have been able to choose from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The rate of vaccination among 12-to-17 residents of Kansas stood at 52.7%, officials said, which was below the national figure of 59.9%.

Randy Watson, commissioner of the Kansas State Department of Education, said the strategy of prioritizing educators and students with masking, testing and vaccinations contributed to the state’s ability to keep most students in school each day. Kansas has about 500,000 students in public and private schools and nearly 50,000 teachers and staff, he said.

Watson said the opportunity to vaccinate more children would support the goal of providing students the best opportunity to learn in classrooms surrounded by their peers.

“School districts are meeting with their county health (officials) to get ready to spring up those vaccination clinics,” he said. “Vaccinations. That’s the real way we’re really going to beat this virus.”

The Pfizer dose recommended by the FDA and CDC was designed for children and underwent clinical trials to determine if it was safe. Pfizer vaccine has been administered 380 million times across the United States since initially authorized in December 2020.

Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the trio of vaccines had proven effective in preventing COVID-19 infection, severe illness, hospitalization and death. He said children should be vaccinated even if they previously contracted COVID-19.

“While we have seen lower rates of COVID infections in children as compared to adults, the Delta variant brought the levels of infections in kids to record highs,” Norman said.

Statistical anomaly

Marci Nielsen, chief advisor to the Kelly administration on COVID-19 coordination, said the latest reporting of Kansas’ seven-day rolling average of deaths due to coronavirus reflected a statistical anomaly. From Oct. 27 to Nov. 1, the state’s rolling average of fatalities ranged from 22 to 29 per day. The rolling average on Oct. 26 was only 10.

Nielsen said massive bumps of 103 deaths reported Oct. 27 and 70 deaths reported Oct. 29 were tied to reconciliation of death registration report and the disease surveillance systems.

“There is not an increase in new deaths in Kansas,” Nielsen said. “This is a bit of a data anomaly.”

In remarks to the Safer Classrooms Workgroup, Kelly said the vaccine was safe, effective and free, and that children 5 and older should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

“I cannot overstate the importance of the vaccine for kids in our pandemic response efforts,” said the governor, who is running for re-election in 2022.

She said misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations continued to be spread, but she didn’t mention the Kansas Legislature’s two-day hearing that brought together more than 100 people who testified about the danger of the vaccinations.

Others sharing public testimony with the joint House and Senate committee said masking was dangerous, social distancing a waste of time and the federal vaccination mandate a violation of individual liberties. Supporters of vaccination programs weren’t allowed to testify.

“Even now,” Kelly said, “nearly a year after the first vaccine was approved, misinformation about the vaccine continues to run rampant through our communities. Some Kansans remain wary of being vaccinated or having their kids vaccinated. The vaccine authorization process is thorough. They have the best minds working to ensure that the vaccine is safe. Ultimately, this decision will be up to our parents.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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