A vaccine pop-up clinic held for students at Oakland Technical High School on Friday, Sept. 6. Credit: Amir Aziz

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today granted emergency use authorization to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11. The decision means that about 140,000 children in Alameda County are now eligible to be vaccinated. Nationwide, there are 28 million children in this age group.

The shots for young children will be in smaller doses and in different packaging than the vaccines used for people aged 16 and up, which were approved in August.  

The approval comes about a month after Pfizer announced findings from a trial involving 2,268 children that showed that 10 micrograms of its vaccine provides “comparable” protection as the 30 milligram doses people aged 16 and up receive. Pfizer said the 10 microgram doses had the best mix of “safety, tolerability and immunogenicity,” or its ability to gear up a person’s immune system to prevent the development of COVID-19. 

Overall, the FDA said clinical trial data shows the two-dose Pfizer vaccine was 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children five to 11 years old. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must still sign off before the shots can be dispersed, but that could come as early as Tuesday.

Alameda County’s COVID dashboard shows nearly 90% of county residents age 12 and up have at least one COVID-19 dose in them and 84% are considered fully vaccinated. Most of the county’s unvaccinated are children.

County officials say they will continue partnering with schools and school districts to make the vaccine available to younger people. Efforts that target specific census tracts that have inequitably borne the brunt of the pandemic will also continue to be a priority for vaccine distribution. 

“Like with everything that we do with our vaccine strategy, we want to have a very equitable approach,” said Lisa Erickson, Alameda County’s go-to for kids and vaccines.

Erickson said that parents who are eager to get their kids their shots should access them through their healthcare provider, if possible. 

The county health department will also be scaling up their community PODS, or point of distribution, like those regularly held at Allen Temple Baptist Church from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, or at ROOTS from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. People can also make vaccine appointments through the county by calling 855-315-1373.  

The Allen Temple distribution site takes part in the county’s new incentive program, which gives $100 prepaid Visa cards to people after they’re fully vaccinated. 

Because schools are in-person again, campuses will continue to play a big role in getting the vaccines to kids, Erickson said. 

“We’re partnering very closely with the Alameda County Office of Education around the coordination and the messaging, and we’ve been partnering with them pretty much since the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. 

Students ages 12 and up who attend Oakland Unified School District schools must now get vaccinated by January 1, 2022 to attend in-person classes. It’s not yet clear if the OUSD school board will make the same decision regarding children ages 5 to 11 years old.

Some parents—including those who didn’t want to be named for this story—are concerned about whether the Oakland Unified School District would require vaccines in the younger age group before it receives full FDA approval.

The state also requires children ages 12 and up to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order for them to attend school—just as it does for other diseases like measles or mumps. State officials haven’t weighed in yet on whether younger children will need to be vaccinated. 

The Alameda County Health Department said it “strongly” supports the state mandate. “The State’s action highlights the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines,” the county said on social media

Dr. Nicholas Moss, Alameda County’s Health Officer, says the county doesn’t currently have a vaccine mandate for kids. 

“I think there’s actually a lot of room built in to see how it goes once we start getting this vaccine out there, and if there is some safety signal that emerges that we’re not aware of yet then there’ll be an opportunity for the state to rethink that policy,” he said. “What happens at the individual school district level gets very complicated and every district is sort of weighing the needs of their individual school community and I think parents should be a part of that community and a part of those discussions.”

The authorization comes also as parents and grandparents are being called back to get their booster shots as early as two months after their initial shots. 

At Asian Health Services in Oakland on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom received a COVID-19 vaccine booster after receiving his first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. It’s a shot anyone over the age of 18 can now get beginning two months after their first dose. 

Instead of a second J&J shot, the governor opted for Moderna to highlight the ability to “mix and match” COVID-19 vaccines. 

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s top doctor, said when people get most other vaccines they don’t know who the manufacturer is. “This idea of mixing and matching is an age-old tradition in vaccinations,” Ghaly said in Oakland Wednesday. 

Besides a booster two months after a single J&J shot, the FDA recommends booster doses six months after the second Moderna or Pfizer shots for people 65 and older and adults who are at high risk of severe COVID-19, or who are frequently exposed to the virus.

With boosters and approval in kids ages five to 11, California and the rest of the United States is expected to see a new surge in people seeking vaccines. 

“Our experience so far with the COVID vaccine is that there have been some issues, but, by and large, these vaccines have been miraculously safe and effective,” Moss said.