State public health officials say schools throughout Orange County and the state could become vaccination sites for children five years and older next month as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to grant an emergency use authorization for the shots.
At a Wednesday morning news briefing, Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency said state public health officials have been working with local health departments and schools to roll out vaccines at schools ahead of the FDA’s expected authorization.
Ghaly said “by the middle of next month,” schools will be offering shots not just for students “but for those families who might find the school site convenient.”
State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said the emergency use authorization could come very soon.
“We know that vaccines for 5 to 11 year olds will be available as soon as the end of next week with the conclusion of the review process,” Pan said at the Wednesday news briefing. “This will be just in time for parents to get their eligible kids protected before the Winter holidays.”
The vaccines won’t yet be mandatory for returning to the classroom because they don’t have full authorization from the FDA.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced earlier this month that students across the state will have to get vaccinated to attend school in person following full approval of the vaccine for children. Newsom estimated that mandate could kick in either January or July, depending on when the FDA makes a decision.
Currently, the vaccine is authorized for people 12 and over and has full FDA approval for people 16 years and older.
Ghaly said state officials don’t have an estimate on when the FDA will fully approve the COVID-19 vaccines.
“We don’t have any more clarity on when the full FDA approval will be,” Ghaly said, adding that it doesn’t look like the full approval will come this year.
Because of that, Ghaly said, the mandate might not hit until next July.
But, he cautioned, “It is hard to say. You know, certainly the FDA could fully authorize it in the next handful of weeks and it could certainly kick in in January 2022.”
On Tuesday, an advisory committee for the FDA recommended emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11.
Pan said clinical trials and studies have shown the vaccine to be safe for children ages 5 to 11.
“There’s a strong antibody response in children who received the vaccines and over 90% efficacy,” Pan said at Wednesday’s media briefing.
She also noted that a pediatric dose is one-third the amount of an adult vaccine.
Since Newsom’s announcement, waves of parents have been showing up to local school board meetings to oppose the expected mandate.
Some of them are concerned about the safety of the vaccine, its effectiveness and argue that children aren’t at high risk of the virus. Others are in support of the mandate and believe it will protect their kids.
Concerns are so high some local parents are threatening to pull their kids out of school if the mandate goes into effect.
And Last week, the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to adopt a resolution pushing Newsom to reconsider or rescind the vaccine mandate for kids to go school.
The resolution argues that the vaccination mandate would drive students away from traditional in person K-12 schools and erode the state’s public school system.
Local health experts like UC Irvine epidemiologist and public health expert, Sanghyuk Shin, argue the vaccine is safe.
“If we want any semblance of having COVID be a disease that causes minimal harm so that we can kind of go back to normal, which is what everybody seems to want, I think we need to support vaccine mandates in schools,” Shin said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.