Kansas starts with 128,000 COVID vaccine doses for 260,000 children aged 5-11, Gov. Laura Kelly says
With COVID-19 vaccines approved for children ages 5-11, youths across Kansas will soon have access to the shot.
Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday that Kansas adopted the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for administering the Pfizer vaccine to children ages 5-11 under an emergency use authorization.
"In the first wave of vaccine distribution, Kansas will receive 128,000 doses," Kelly told the Safer Classrooms Workgroup on Wednesday. "Some doses have already arrived and we expect most to be delivered by this Friday.
"Over half of these vaccines will go directly to large health care providers and local public health departments that have ordered the vaccine in packages of 300 doses. The other half will be repackaged in smaller amounts so that pediatricians, family physicians, community health centers and other providers can immediately begin to vaccinate their pediatric patients."
Kansas has more than 260,000 children in the 5-11 age group, Kelly said.
"Ultimately, this decision will be up to our parents," Kelly said. "So I encourage all Kansans to talk with their doctors, or other trusted health care providers, to make an informed decision on what's best for their kids. The tools we need to protect our children and finally return to normal are more accessible than ever. This new vaccine is safe, it's effective, and it's free. So call your doctor or go to vaccines.gov and schedule an appointment as soon as possible."
The KDHE on Wednesday reported 1,426 new cases among children and eight pediatric hospitalizations in the past seven days. Data showed Kansas had 51 active coronavirus clusters at schools, including eight new outbreaks in the past week.
Five Kansas children have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Three of those deaths have been during this fall semester.
"We've had five pediatric deaths in the state of Kansas," said pediatric hospitalist Stephanie Kuhlmann. "We have now a vaccine that's going to prevent that, so we shouldn't have any moving forward."
Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation
Misinformation on COVID-19 vaccines has been widespread. The Kansas Legislature's anti-mandate committee has permitted several hours of public comment to spread misinformation without rebuttal.
The Special Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates meets again on Tuesday.
"Even now, nearly a year after the first vaccine was approved, misinformation about the vaccine continues to run rampant through our communities," Kelly said. "And some Kansans remain wary of getting vaccinated or having their kids vaccinated. I want to reiterate that the vaccine authorization process is thorough, they have the best minds working to ensure that the vaccine is safe."
Kristie Clark, a pediatrician and president of the Kansas Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics, said physicians need to reassure parents.
"Over 10 million kids in the U.S. age 12 and up have already received at least one dose of this vaccine," Clark said. "So that is something really important for parents to know, that this has (emergency authorization), it was tested in thousands of kids, there were no serious side effects and millions of teenagers at this point have had this vaccine and are doing well with it."
Polling of Kansas parents on vaccine hesitancy, analyzed by QuoteWizard by LendingTree and released Tuesday, showed concerns about side effects are the top reason cited by parents opposed to vaccination.
The survey, which allowed respondents to provide multiple reasons, found that 51% of parents cited concerns about side effects, 40% wanted to wait and see, 31% don't trust the government, 29% are not convinced their children need the vaccine and 12% don't believe in vaccination.
Masks and mitigation measures
The workgroup has promoted vaccines, testing and masks as the primary tools to keep children safe and in school.
Still, about 20% of public and private schools have shown no interest in implementing a KDHE testing program. Those schools educate about 75,000 children.
Only 20% of school districts, as of the start of November, required masks for all or most students. Those schools educate about 303,000 children, or about 63% of all schoolchildren in the state.
School mask mandates lead to fewer and smaller outbreaks of COVID-19, KDHE data show. Of the current clusters, outbreaks at schools without mask mandates affect seven times as many students per capita.
"We continue to stress to school districts vaccinations," state Education Commissioner Randy Watson said. "That's the real way we're going to really beat this virus. And then of course to mitigate until we can get there — masking and testing."
Mask mandates have already been lifted in some school districts. Kevin Riemann, executive director of the Kansas National Education Association, raised concerns that more mitigation measures could be rolled back amid turnover on local boards of education.
"Looking at the results of last night's school board elections we had, in all the suburban areas we talked about, had masking mandates and did a lot of those mitigation efforts," Riemann said. "A lot of candidates who have run off the platform of not masking and not doing the mitigation efforts won, and they will be on the boards in January."
Jason Tidd is a statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.