Genesee County, MI— Beginning Nov. 3, children ages 5 to 11 are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 pediatric vaccine, and Genesee County health officials are gearing up to distribute the shot as early as next week.

The pediatric vaccine received emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Nov. 2.

Local health departments are awaiting guidelines from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services before they can administer the shot but expect to receive them within the next two days, Kim VanSlyke-Smith, director of nursing for the Genesee County Health Department, said.

GCHD has already ordered and received enough doses to vaccinate all 5 to 11-year-olds in the county, JoAnne Herman, COVID-19 nursing coordinator for the GCHD, said.

The health department plans to reopen what they call “pod locations” at various schools throughout the county, including Flint Southwestern. The mass vaccination clinics will operate during after-school hours.

“We’re very flexible in offering vaccines in the afternoon, late afternoon, and evening. It’s especially important because parents will be bringing their children in, or the guardian, and they’re also working people and we didn’t want them to have to miss work as well,” Herman said.

The pediatric vaccine contains a lower dose of messenger RNA, 10 micrograms compared to the 30 micrograms for individuals over the age of 12. It will be administered as a two-dose primary series, three weeks apart.

The shot will be available through the health department’s ongoing drop-in clinics at Our Lady of Guadalupe, Central Church of the Nazarene, and Shiloh Baptist Missionary. For all clinics, there are no out-of-pocket costs, deductibles, or co-payments. Insurance is not required to get a vaccination.

Other health organizations are also working to expand vaccination efforts. The Greater Flint Health Coalition will continue to use their mobile vaccine units with the addition of the pediatric vaccine once available.

“We are addressing COVID vaccine hesitancy by doing some community-based training,” Janée Tyus, senior program director for the GFHC, said. “We’re working with our physician practices to help them increase the availability of the vaccine at their practices and mitigate any barriers that they have, specifically our pediatric population.”

Major drug store chains like Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS will also offer the pediatric vaccine beginning this weekend. In press statements, drug store representatives gave the following dates for initial vaccine distribution.

  • Walgreens, Saturday, Nov. 6. Parents and guardians can begin scheduling appointments now online or by calling 1-800-Walgreens
  • Rite Aid, Saturday, Nov. 6.
  • CVS, Sunday, Nov. 7. Parents and guardians can begin scheduling appointments now online.  

According to an ongoing study of 4,700 children 5 through 11 years old, the FDA found the vaccine to be 90.7% effective in preventing COVID. The study is being conducted in the U.S., Finland, Poland, and Spain. The safety of the vaccine was tested in 3,100 participants and thus far there have been no serious side effects detected. 

Children reported mild side effects including soreness at the injection site, fatigue, headache, nausea, chills, and fever. More children reported these effects after the second dose than after the first, according to the FDA.

In Genesee County, those between the ages of 0-17 represent 16% of overall cases and less than 1% of deaths.

For parents who are unsure about vaccinating their child, health officials recommend they consult their primary care doctor.

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...