NM parent of children under 5 frustrated with vaccine rollout so far

Pfizer and Moderna shots for youngest children gets initial approval, but parents still don’t know where they will get them

By: - June 16, 2022 5:00 am

The Biden administration asked Congress for $22.5 billion for COVID tests, treatments and vaccines in early March. But two bipartisan agreements — the first for $15 billion and the second for $10 billion — have not made it to the floor for votes. (Photo by Scott Olson / Getty Images)

An independent advisory committee to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously Wednesday to authorize two vaccines for children younger than five years old.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee’s vote came as a relief for Justine Fox-Young, an Albuquerque-based attorney and mother of three children aged four, three and 15-months.

“I’m really happy that there’s some protection for our kids on the horizon,” she said in an interview on Wednesday hours after the committee’s meeting. “Families like ours have been waiting a really long time for what every other age group has had for some time. A lot of parents just wanna see some protection for their kids.”

If the FDA issues an approval and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give a recommendation of use, then shots could be distributed as early as next week.

FDA outside advisers recommend Pfizer, Moderna COVID vaccines for kids under 5

But parents like Fox-Young are in the dark because the state health department is not sharing plans on the rollout. The lack of information on how to get New Mexico children under 5 vaccinated here in the state is causing her frustration. 

“I think a lot of people have forgotten about the youngest kids under five,” Fox-Young said. “Unless you have very young kids, it’s easy to lose sight of this issue, because so many people have had access to a vaccine for a long time. I would demand our state health department to keep their eye on the ball. These are the youngest, most helpless members of our society, and they need protection.”

Her calls to the state Department of Health, clinics and any place else she thinks of has left her with no information on any kind of rollout about the pediatric vaccine in New Mexico.

“I’m pretty persistent,” she said. “DOH doesn’t answer the phone. I think clinics are waiting to hear what they’re gonna be able to get, and there’s no clear path. From what I can tell, New Mexico is just not prioritizing kids under five in terms of getting the vaccine.”

Fox-Young finds that shocking and deeply frustrating after more than two years of living through this pandemic.

Public health experts point out that delays in rolling out the vaccine are significant because children could be infected by covid and suffer short- and long-term effects, especially during a surge in cases like the one currently happening in New Mexico.

“Kids have been waiting, have had to navigate the pandemic without any vaccine protection,” Fox-Young said. “Now we’re on the cusp of availability, and the state apparently has nothing to say about it.”

Reached for comment on Tuesday, DOH spokesperson Jodi McGinnis Porter said the state health department is working on setting things up for pediatric vaccines and “will put out a news release when all of those pieces are in place.”

Pressed for more details, McGinnis Porter said Wednesday that DOH anticipates once the vaccines are given final approval, the federal government will ship them to the states on June 20 and 21.

“There are providers throughout the state to administer the vaccine,” she said. “There may be waiting periods for appointments in a few places but there will be enough vaccine for all.”

She said in the meantime, families and guardians of younger children can get ready for the rollout by adding their children or dependents to their vaccine profile at vaccinenm.org.

However, parents in New Mexico like Fox-Young cannot schedule their children for an appointment to get the shot.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha said earlier this month doses cannot be administered until after the CDC recommends emergency use, States Newsroom reports. Jha said he expected shots could begin next week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will meet on Saturday to vote on both of the vaccines for younger children, according to their agenda.

Acting New Mexico health secretary Dr. David Scrase told reporters on June 8 that health leaders are excited about the deliberations for the new vaccine for younger children.

“New Mexico will hear from us very shortly after we get the approval from the six-month to four-year-old vaccine,” Scrase said. “I work with a lot of people who are very excited about that finally coming out.”

Fox-Young sees Scrase’s sentiment as a throwaway line unless and until they make the vaccines available and tell parents how to go about getting their children vaccinated.

“I find it shocking at this stage,” she said. “The state has had so long to plan for this. There are no surprises here.”

Every U.S. state except for Florida has pre-ordered vaccines for children under 5, McClatchy reported on Wednesday.

McGinnis Porter said New Mexico will receive its shipment after the CDC director signs off on the ACIP’s endorsement of the shots and gives recommendations. The state ordered both Moderna and Pfizer shots, she said.

National experts say the delay in pediatric vaccines is unprecedented and so far, unexplained. Activists in May demanded that the FDA prioritize official discussion of the Moderna data over other discussion about boosters and older age groups.

Demonstrators demand immediate review of COVID vaccine for youngest children in the U.S.

They said it’s urgent that the vaccine for children 5 and under be reviewed and approved to limit the severe outcomes when unvaccinated children get infected like hospitalization, death, multisystem inflammatory syndrome and pediatric long COVID.

“It just appears that it hasn’t been a priority,” Fox-Young said.

She pointed to other state and local health departments that already have plans in place allowing parents to make appointments for vaccines next week, including Los Angeles and Washington.

She acknowledges that her family is fortunate to have resources and the ability to protect themselves.

“I was on the verge of taking our kids to Germany to get them vaccinated,” Fox-Young said. “If our United States government hadn’t gotten it together on this and finally arrived at an approval which is now imminent.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.