Rhode Island preparing to vaccinate kids against COVID-19

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island officials are preparing now to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 in anticipation of the federal government authorizing Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for that age group, Gov. Dan McKee said Thursday.

McKee and the state's health director went to the Providence Children's Museum to describe their strategy for the next vaccination campaign. The museum plans to offer the vaccine on site if it becomes available for children ages 5 to 11.

Pfizer asked the U.S. government to authorize its vaccine for elementary school-age children last week. If regulators give the go-ahead, reduced-dose kids’ shots could begin within a matter of weeks.

Expanding vaccine availability to roughly 28 million more U.S. children nationwide is seen as another milestone in the fight against the virus and comes amid an alarming rise in serious infections in youngsters because of the extra-contagious delta variant.

There are about 80,000 children ages 5 to 11 in Rhode Island. McKee, a Democrat, said vaccinating children will help protect them, ensure they can keep learning in school and help the state's recovery from the pandemic. He spoke about removing barriers to accessing the vaccine and said children would be able to get it at school clinics.

More than 20,000 children in Rhode Island have been infected with COVID and nearly 300 hospitalized, said Dr. Elizabeth Lange, president of the Rhode Island Medical Society, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The state is asking all pediatricians and family physicians if they want to enroll as vaccine providers. About 80 are ready to vaccinate or almost ready, out of 134. The major health systems are also being asked to get their entire provider networks to offer the vaccine.

The state is also working to simplify the process for ordering a vaccine, get the vaccine distribution network ready and plan how to communicate to parents the importance of the vaccine.

“Rhode Island will be ready and I hope you and your family will be ready as well,” McKee said at the museum.

Rhode Island would not receive 80,000 doses at once. But the state anticipates getting enough doses over the course of a few weeks.

McKee said the state is also closing a field hospital in Cranston because it is no longer necessary, which he called a very good sign.