WASHINGTON — The White House is prepared to start shipping millions of covid vaccines for the youngest children as early as next weekend, should U.S. regulators give the green light. Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to meet next week to review data on Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine for kids ages 6 months to 5 years.
Should those groups recommend vaccinations for that age range, the White House expects the first shots to be administered to young children as soon as June 21, White House Covid coordinator Ashish Jha said Thursday. Federal officials plan to send out 10 million doses initially, with millions of additional doses planned to be made available in the coming weeks.
“We have waited a long time for this moment,” Jha said. “More than two years into the Covid-19 pandemic and after nearly 18 months since the first set of vaccines became available for adults, we are on the cusp of having safe, highly effective vaccines for kids under 5.”
The vaccination program for the young children won’t be affected by recent Covid funding shortfalls, but officials said they are continuing to struggle to come up with enough funding to be able to buy new versions of vaccines that they anticipate needing for the fall.
The White House said Wednesday it was diverting $10 billion from testing and other programs toward fall vaccine purchases, but that won’t be enough money to ensure every American who wants a vaccine is able to get one. A White House request for $22.5 billion in new Covid funds has been stalled in Congress since March.
“We’re looking under every couch cushion to see what is available,” said Dawn O’Connell, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
Jha said the administration is making “incredibly painful decisions” in deciding to cut back spending on testing and personal protective equipment in order to be able to start negotiations with vaccine makers over fall doses.
The vaccines for the youngest kids were ordered with previously appropriated funds from Congress.
Of the first 5 million doses that have already been made available for states and jurisdictions in anticipation of the FDA and CDC’s decision, 58 percent of the Pfizer doses have been ordered and 34 percent of the Moderna doses have been ordered, said a senior administration official. The next tranche of 5 million doses was made available for order this week.
This official said the administration wasn’t concerned about the lack of orders and expects demand from states to pick up.
“Our experience has been that people are slow to order, and this has been true across each of the times we’ve opened up ordering, so I wouldn’t focus on those early numbers,” the official said.
While many parents have been eagerly awaiting vaccinations for the youngest kids, just about a third of children ages 5 to 11 have gotten at least their first dose.
CORRECTION (June 9, 2022, 4:45 p.m. ET) A previous version of this article misstated the date the White House expects the first coronavirus vaccine shots to be administered to children under age 5, assuming regulator approval. Those shots could begin as soon as June 21, not July 21.