This story originally published online at N.C. Policy Watch. 

With the United States on the cusp of approving COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, North Carolina’s lead health official said Wednesday that doses will be ready to go.

And a Duke University doctor who led a trial on child doses said it’s important for parents to get their children vaccinated.

About 80 percent or 85 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve community protection, said Dr. Emmanuel Walter Jr., a pediatrician and chief medical officer at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, and getting children vaccinated will be important to reaching that goal.

An FDA advisory panel on Tuesday recommended the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. The FDA is expected to act on the recommendation and the CDC publish guidelines as early as the end of next week.

The state will have 400,000 doses by then, Dr. Mandy Cohen, state Department of Health and Human Services secretary, said at a news conference Wednesday. The vaccine for children will be available in every county, at 750 locations, including doctors’ offices, pharmacies, local public health offices, and community vaccine sites, Cohen said.

Sixty-four percent of people in the state 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the DHHS COVID-19 dashboard, but the vaccination rate for adolescents ages 12 to 17 is lower than for all other age groups. Forty-two percent of them are vaccinated, according to DHHS.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken in September found 34 percent of parents with children 5 to 11 said they would get the vaccinated right away, while 32 percent said they would “wait and see.”

Walter led a trial of vaccines in children younger than 12 to determine the best dose. Children were monitored for side effects. They received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine taken three weeks apart, the same as adults.

“People can be reassured that the safety of this vaccine in children will be comparable to that which is seen in adults and feel comfortable giving their child the vaccine,” Walter told reporters at a Duke media briefing Wednesday.

Walter anticipated that most kids would be vaccinated in doctors’ offices.

“That’s where they feel comfortable and that’s truthfully where the vaccinators feel comfortable having those discussions with families about vaccination and administering vaccine,” he said.

A nonstop barrage of misinformation about vaccines has tainted discussions of their effectiveness and safety.

Cohen said pediatricians will be key to spreading the vaccine message that’s based on science and data.

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