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White House prepares to provide COVID-19 vaccines to children under 5

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, the White House is expected to describe its plans for rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for America's youngest kids. Children under 5 are the last age group still waiting for vaccine protection. If the FDA and CDC give the go-ahead next week, the administration says it has 10 million doses ready to go. NPR's Pien Huang has been following all this, and she joins me this morning. Hey, Pien.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: You got some details from the White House last night. What did officials say about this rollout?

HUANG: Well, first of all, the big caveat is that all of this depends on a few key meetings next week. An FDA advisory panel will look at the data for both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for kids under 5. They'll weigh the risks and benefits. And then the CDC's advisers will weigh in. So if both agencies agree that the vaccines are safe and effective, that will kick off this White House plan.

MARTIN: OK, So a couple hurdles left. But exactly what is the plan?

HUANG: Well, states are already ordering doses. Pre-ordering started last week with 5 million doses available. Another 5 million came online yesterday. And so far, some states have ordered just Moderna, some Pfizer, some both, and some states have ordered none so far. But senior officials say it's early days, and they do expect every state to have some vaccine on hand by the time the rollout starts. They think that could be as early as June 21, as long as the CDC and FDA's advisers are satisfied with the data that they're seeing.

MARTIN: So, I mean, parents have been waiting for this for so long, and any bit of information is helpful. As they make their plans, are these shots going to be available just - what? - at their pediatrician's office or where?

HUANG: Well, that is the big focus of it. So the White House is currently starting - or focusing, really, on pediatricians, families' doctor's offices, children's hospitals. These are places that are trusted that parents are used to getting care for their kids. They're also working with pharmacies and state and local health departments. But they're also planning a lot of outreach because they know that while some parents have been waiting for a long time, some parents are not going to be lining up right away. That's something we've seen with 5- to 11-year-olds, where only 30% of that group is fully vaccinated, even though the vaccine has been available for seven months. So to get information to parents with questions, the administration is going to be reaching out to just about anywhere kids go - to child care sites, children's museums, libraries, anywhere they can to get the vaccine info out and to get shots into arms.

MARTIN: So, Pien, you mentioned that states are already ordering Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. If both are authorized for kids younger than 5, how do parents know which one to choose?

HUANG: Well, there are two big differences that we know about right now. First, Moderna is two doses, and Pfizer is three. So both will require the first two doses to be spaced about a month apart, and then Pfizer will require a third dose two months later. There also seems to be a difference in protection. So late last month, Pfizer released some early data showing that three doses appear to be 80% effective against getting sick from omicron. Moderna's data showed that their two-dose vaccine is between 37 to 51% effective. So, so far, the results that we've seen come through company press releases, but the FDA and CDC will be digging into that underlying data, and they'll be sharing their conclusions next week.

MARTIN: So, Pien, these final approvals are coming next week, as we've been talking about. So is the White House getting ahead of its skis right now by unveiling its plan this week?

HUANG: Well, the White House says that they're planning, not predicting, and they've repeatedly said that the rollout won't be activated without the authorization from the FDA, the recommendation from CDC. But researchers I've talked to say it is a bit of a challenge when the policy is supposed to follow the science, but the policy is unveiled first with specific dates attached.

MARTIN: All right, we appreciate you. NPR's Pien Huang.

HUANG: Appreciate you, too. Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.