Biden touts child COVID-19 vaccines after dismal election night

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President Biden said Wednesday that COVID-19 vaccines for school-aged kids will be widely available across the U.S. by next week, latching onto the “giant step forward” in the pandemic fight in the wake of a bruising Election Day for Democrats.

Mr. Biden said the shots will be available at 20,000 locations that parents “know and trust,” such as pediatricians’ offices and pharmacies. He said they will be open on nights and weekends so parents don’t have to miss work to take their kids to get their shots.

“For parents all over this country this is a day of relief and celebration,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “After almost 18 months of anxious worrying every time your child had a sniffle or started to cough, well, you can now protect them from this horrible virus.”

Biden officials said while children account for a tiny fraction of the bad outcomes from COVID-19, the disease has killed nearly 100 5-to-11-year-olds and hospitalized more than 8,000. Other children have developed persistent symptoms known as “long COVID.”

“They don’t have to. This vaccine is safe and effective, so get your children vaccinated to protect themselves, to protect others and to stop the spread,” Mr. Biden said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday evening recommended that children ages 5 to 11 get the smaller-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that was approved for emergency use last week by the Food and Drug Administration.

The development gave administration officials some good news to discuss on Wednesday after watching the Virginia governor’s mansion slip into Republican hands and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy struggle to fend off his GOP challenger.

Mr. Biden touted progress in the vaccine rollout. While 58% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, nearly eight in 10 eligible Americans have received at least one dose. The pediatric push should lift vaccination rates.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that millions of doses are being flown to all corners of the country, “from Bar Harbor, Maine; to Anchorage, Alaska; to San Juan, Puerto Rico.”

He said parents will be able to search for sites offering the child vaccines on the vaccines.gov website by the end of the week and the rollout will reach full speed across the U.S. by next week.

The CDC approval of the shots for 28 million 5-to-11-year-olds brings the share of Americans eligible to be vaccinated to 94%, the White House said.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said children who were previously infected with the virus should get vaccinated, even if they likely have some level of protection against future disease.

“We don’t really know how long that lasts or how robust it is and so we absolutely recommend that even children who have had the disease before get vaccinated,” Dr. Walensky said.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said he plans to vaccinate his 5-year-old son.

“We will be so grateful that we can more confidently send him out into the world knowing he has strong protection against COVID-19,” Dr. Murthy said. “Ultimately, we want every child in our country to be safe from COVID and to be able to get back to the lives they love, sleepovers and birthday parties, school plays and soccer games, visits with friends and grandparents and so much more.”

It is not clear how many parents will heed the surgeon general’s call. Polling suggests only about a third of parents plan to get their kids ages 5-11 vaccinated right away, while another third will be in a wait-and-see posture as other families come forward first.

Mr. Murthy said parents deserve factual answers to their questions on the vaccine. He warned parents to avoid a “wave of misinformation” about pediatric vaccines that will be “coming their way.”

“Please seek answers from credible sources, like their doctor, their local hospital, their local health department or the CDC,” Dr. Murthy said.

Also Wednesday, Mr. Biden urged seniors who have seen the worst outcomes from COVID-19 to get a booster shot. Those over 65 who received the Pfizer or Moderna shots are eligible for a booster six months after their second dose. Younger adults with underlying health conditions or high-risk jobs are also eligible. 

Anyone who received a Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago is eligible for an extra dose of any vaccine.

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