Maryland public health officials said Thursday they are preparing to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children under 5 years old — possibly as early as June 20.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control are expected to rule next week on making two sets of vaccines available to young children, the officials said, and Maryland has already ordered almost 66,000 doses, with more to follow.
“We’ll be watching next week,” Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary at the Maryland Department of Health, said at a State House news conference Thursday afternoon.
The announcement about vaccines for young children was part of a broader discussion of new state efforts to combat COVID-19. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the state wants to treat the virus as “an ongoing operation of state government,” rather than an emergency.
The state is continuing to boost its efforts to provide COVID vaccines, testing and treatments across the state, he said, and is calling its new push COVIDReady Maryland. Among other things, the Health Department website is launching a portal on which Marylanders can check whether they are fully up-to-date on their COVID vaccinations.
“No one should consider themselves fully protected unless you have gotten a booster,” Hogan said.
As for rolling out vaccines for children, Chan said there are about 358,000 kids in Maryland younger than 6 who are eligible to receive vaccines when the federal government approves. A Pfizer vaccine, which would be administered in three doses, would be available for children age 6 months to 4 years. A Moderna vaccine, administered in two doses, would be available for children 6 years and younger.
“Our goal with this age group, as it has been with all age groups, is to distribute them equitably, across the state, utilizing our vast network of pediatricians and family practitioners, as well as local health departments, who will be at the forefront of this vaccination effort,” Chan said.
State officials believe they have made good progress on protecting children ages 5-11 from the virus. Since a Pfizer vaccine was made available to children in that age group, about 50% have gotten at least one dose in Maryland, while 43% have been fully vaccinated, Chan said. Last month, the CDC approved one booster shot for children in that age range, and about 10% have received a booster.
Officials said the new COVIDReady Maryland program includes:
- Expanded “Test to Treat” provider infrastructure, designed to enable patients to get tested, evaluated and treated during the same visit at the same location. Over the last three months, the state has nearly doubled its “Test To Treat” sites to 88 locations, and the Maryland Department of Health is preparing dozens more urgent care and ambulatory care locations to to provide these services by the fall.
- Maximizing use of therapeutics, which frequently help keep people who have contracted COVID-19 out of the hospital. These treatments are now available at roughly 800 locations statewide, officials said.
- Enhanced awareness and outreach. The state’s GoVAX Call Center (1-855-MD-GOVAX) continues to be available seven days a week, and has now booked nearly 2 million appointments, state officials said. In addition, the state on Thursday launched a new series of TV, radio, and social media ads featuring Maryland families sharing their reasons for getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Hogan said the state will continue to be vigilant when it comes to monitoring and reacting to new COVID-19 variants and potential case surges that could overtax the public health system.
“We continue to stand ready to respond just as we have for the past 2 1/2 years,” he said.