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Health and Medicine

California says it's ready to vaccinate younger kids against COVID-19 when federal approval comes

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Ahead of the winter months, California health officials say they will have enough COVID-19 vaccines for the state's 3.5 million children ages 5-11 when federal approval comes, and are urging eligible people to get booster shots.

“The coming months as we approach the fall and winter are going to be challenging for the state,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “These boosters will help strengthen our immunity ahead of these winter months,” which ushered in a massive spike in California’s cases and deaths last year.

Boosters are available for certain populations, including those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than two months ago.

A booster is also available for people who received a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago and:

  • Are over the age of 65
  • Have underlying medical conditions
  • Live or work in high-risk settings like nursing homes

Are you eligible for a COVID-19 booster? Take our quiz to find out.

Ghaly also encouraged people who live in hard-hit communities to talk with their doctor about getting a booster shot. It’s unclear if or when boosters will be recommended for the general population.

Officials also stressed the importance of vaccinating children and teens when possible. The FDA is expected to grant emergency authorization to allow children aged 5-11 to get the Pfizer vaccine in the coming days. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control will then need to make a final recommendation next week before younger kids can receive a vaccination.

“We are prepared for whenever it happens,” Ghaly said, noting that families will be able to get vaccines for younger children at most pharmacies, doctors offices and other vaccine sites. Pfizer’s dose for 5-11-year-olds is about a third of the dose for teens and adults and comes in separate packages.

State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said the state will have 1.2 million doses available the first week that younger kids are eligible, with more arriving in the following weeks. There are approximately 3.5 million children 5-11 years old in California.

“This will be just in time for parents to get their eligible kids protected for the winter holidays, and we are ready to administer in California,” Pan said.

Ghaly also said some schools will host vaccine clinics for students and unvaccinated family members beginning in mid-November.

He encouraged those who haven’t been vaccinated to visit myturn.ca.gov or call 1-833-422-4255 to schedule an appointment.

One-third of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have not received a COVID-19 vaccine, making them California’s lowest-vaccinated age group.

“Bottom line is vaccines continue to save lives,” Ghaly, a trained pediatrician, said. “They help us get back to normal, not just through the winter months, but really getting us back to celebrating holidays and birthdays with confidence with our families.”

California saw a huge spike in cases and deaths last winter, despite restrictions including regional stay-at-home orders. About a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the state happened in January of this year, Ghaly said.

After a steady drop since August, new case rates have begun to plateau, prompting concerns of a new spike, particularly in communities with low vaccination rates.

While vaccines are now available and 87% of eligible Californians have received at least one dose, health officials will continue to monitor transmission rates during the fall and winter months.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the spring, took a Moderna booster on-camera Wednesday to encourage others to get boosted.

“That's better than the flu shot,” the governor said as the needle was pulled from his arm.

“This is an incredibly important time” to get vaccinated and follow other pandemic measures such as mask-wearing, Newsom said.

“We want our kids back in school without episodic closures,” he said. “We know the ticket out of this pandemic is getting these booster shots and getting the unvaccinated vaccinated.”

Copyright 2021 CapRadio