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A pediatrician weighs in on the White House's vaccine plan for young kids

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you're the parent of a 5- to 11-year-old, you may be anxiously waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for your children. Well, you might not have to wait much longer. Meetings of the FDA and CDC at the end of this month and beginning of next could lead to emergency use authorization, and the Biden administration announced plans this morning to try to make sure those shots are available to kids as quickly as possible.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Specifically, they're looking at making sure there's enough supply, that the vaccine is available in a variety of places, including pediatricians offices, hospitals, pharmacies and other health clinics. There are also specific plans in place about communication, making sure parents have answers to their questions and accurate scientific information.

Dr. Rhea Boyd is a pediatrician and a public health advocate, and she joins me now to talk more about all of this.

Welcome to the program.

RHEA BOYD: Thank you so much for having me.

MCCAMMON: So first, explain why the Biden administration is talking so much about supply. Why can't they just use the vaccine that's already out there?

BOYD: So what's unique about the vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds is that it's not the same vaccination vial that might be sitting right now in doctor's offices or pharmacies. And so what will be necessary is actually distributing the new vaccination dose so that sites are equipped with that dose and that they have all the safety protocols in place to give it based on age.

MCCAMMON: When you talk to parents who have questions about this vaccine, who are thinking about getting it for their kids when it becomes available, first of all, what kinds of questions do they have? And how do you talk to them?

BOYD: What we're hearing from parents and caregivers is that they actually have pretty specific questions about their own child's medical history and whether or not the vaccine is safe for their child in the context of that medical history. So what I've heard in particular is from parents like, what if my child has special needs? Is the COVID vaccine safe for them? Or what if they have a seizure disorder or a chronic illness like diabetes? And so because of those very specific concerns, the communications campaigns are actually going to have to be pretty tailored to parents' concerns. And we're going to have to make sure that parents can connect to providers that they trust and that they reliably go to to have those questions answered.

MCCAMMON: Dr. Boyd, you've done a lot of work on reaching communities of color as co-developer of The Conversation, a national information campaign to bring accurate information about the COVID vaccine to Black and Latinx communities. What are your thoughts on the White House communication plan to reach those groups of people?

BOYD: What we're thrilled to see is that they are talking about a unified communication campaign. So unfortunately, I think the adult vaccine rollout was complicated by some conflicting messages. And what we know about the 5 to 11 rollout is that we have to be consistent and clear with parents. And so from the announcement today, we hear that the White House is working with HHS to have a unified communications campaign to make sure that wherever parents prefer to receive their information, there is no wrong door for them to have access to the credible science about how the vaccines work. And that's what we know is critical for our Black and Latinx communities as well.

MCCAMMON: We know that equity has been a challenge with this pandemic, and it has highlighted inequities along racial lines, for example. How concerned are you about specifically the vaccine rollout for children in that regard?

BOYD: Racial equity in the vaccine rollout for 5- to 11-year-olds is perhaps even more important than it has been for adults, and I'll tell you why. We know that 48 million kids in this country are under age 12, and more than half of that group are children of color. And the vast majority are Black and Latinx children. And when we look at the vaccination patterns among adults, we see that Black and Latinx adults had the lower vaccination rates when you disaggregate by race and ethnic group. And so what we are concerned about is that those same inequities might exist for kids. And so we have to make sure that we're doing everything that it takes to eliminate all the access barriers so that Black and Latinx kids can also get the COVID vaccine just like every other racial and ethnic group.

MCCAMMON: It has been a long pandemic. I know all too well that it's been tough for people with younger children at home. What will it mean for the larger fight against COVID to get these shots in the arms of kids?

BOYD: You know, kids are a not insignificant part of the unvaccinated population in this country. And so it means a lot that we are now preparing to vaccinate kids because we know that that will increase our national vaccination numbers. But specifically, if we just look at kids as a population, we also know that the COVID vaccines are critical to make school a safe place for kids to continue to go so that they don't miss out on learning, like we saw over the last year. And so making sure that the vaccines are available to younger kids is really critical to making sure that kids don't miss the developmental milestones that they need to be meeting in school and in their social lives to make sure all of our kids are thriving and doing well.

MCCAMMON: And I know a lot of parents will be breathing a sigh of relief when their kids are protected.

BOYD: Pediatricians will as well.

MCCAMMON: That's pediatrician and public health advocate Dr. Rhea Boyd.

Thank you so much for your time.

BOYD: Oh, of course. Thanks again for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.