Maryland Health Providers Can Now Offer COVID-19 Vaccines to Younger Children

A nurse draws a vaccine dose as Marylanders receive their second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at the Cameron Grove Community Center on March 25 in Bowie. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Maryland health officials on Wednesday authorized health providers across the state to begin scheduling appointments to make the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine available to 515,000 Maryland children ages 5 to 11. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the vaccine for all 5- to 11-year-olds on Tuesday evening, making the vaccine available to children in that age group for the first time. 

Maryland has ordered 180,000 doses directly from Pfizer, which will be distributed across the state in the next following weeks, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said at a press conference Wednesday. This is enough for more than a third of the children who are now eligible for the vaccine and will be distributed by demand, according to Maryland Department of Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader. 

“We expect to have ample vaccine supply in the state to meet the demand in the days and weeks to come,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, Deputy Secretary of Public Health Services.

All 24 local school districts in Maryland have agreed to hold clinics at schools to administer COVID-19 vaccines and the state will offer staffing support to schools and counties, Hogan said. “We believe that’s the best way to get equitable distribution — by reaching the children in the schools,” Schrader said. 

The Baltimore City Health Department will begin to offer vaccination to younger children next week through school-based vaccination clinics throughout the city and mobile health clinics in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates, according to the city.

Children’s ages 5 to 11 will receive one-third of the dose given to those 12 and older and vaccines will be packaged in smaller vials with different colored caps to avoid confusion with adult doses, Chan said. The Pfizer vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, according to health officials. 

Parents can find a provider and make an appointment for their children through an online portal at covidvax.maryland.gov or by calling 1-855-MDGOVAX. To date, Maryland has administered more than 8.5 million vaccines and more than 430,000 booster shots. Vaccine boosters are all a single dose. 

“They [5-to-11-year-olds], like all of us, have been at risk of contracting COVID-19 over the last 20 months, and it’s now their turn and our responsibility to be able to ensure that parents have the information they need to get their children vaccinated,” said Chan, who has children in the newly eligible age group. 

Side effects of the vaccine are usually mild and include pain, redness and swelling at site of the injection, tiredness, headache, muscle pains, a mild fever and chills. However, these side effects are “much less severe” than getting COVID-19, Chan said. Half of American children who have contracted the coronavirus have experienced “long COVID,” which is when symptoms persist for weeks or months after the active infection has ended, she said.

Dr. Monique Soileau-Burke, vice president of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that she has a 14-year-old patient who cannot walk up the stairs of her high school and cannot play any sports because she is still experiencing COVID symptoms almost a year after her infection. 

“Vaccinating our children is the right thing to do — it’s safe. It’s effective,” she said.

The proportion of new COVID-19 cases has been increasing among younger age groups, according to Chan. Only 6% of all COVID cases were children under 10 years old at the beginning of the year, but around 14% of new COVID cases have been from children under 10 years old in the last few months she said. Around 700 children in Maryland have been hospitalized due to the coronavirus, she continued. 

Health officials and pediatric experts urged parents to get their children vaccinated. 

“Parents, you have a chance to save your children. The decision is yours — you don’t have to get the shot — but I’m pleading with you, I’m pleading with you to do so,” said Dr. Michael Zollicoffer, a pediatrician in Baltimore. 

“For the 5-year-olds, we now have that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” he said.

“We have hope today,” he repeatedly said. 

Immunizing 5-to-11-year-olds could reduce infections by 8% between now and the end of March across the country, according to a CDC estimate. And rising immunity is likely to help keep schools open. 

“The more we are vaccinated as a population, the more we can cut off the spread of disease and the development of variants, and the more we can get back to normal activities and the lives that we want all of our children to have,” Chan said. “So for all the parents out there, please look for a vaccine.” 

[email protected]