Washington expects about 316,000 doses of kid-sized Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in the state by the end of next week for children between 5 and 11, pending federal authorization, state health officials said Wednesday.
The kid-sized dose, which is equal to one-third of the adult Pfizer vaccine dose, still needs the emergency authorization of the Food and Drug Administration and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The CDC's committee meets next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The shipments will likely offer families relief and another layer of safety for youngsters who have returned to in-person schools, which tallied more than 180 K-12 outbreaks during August and September.
About 1,284 infections have been associated with the 189 outbreaks in Washington's schools — 42 in August and 147 in September, the highest number of school outbreaks to occur in a month since the state started tracking them last fall, said Lacy Fehrenbach, the state Department of Health's deputy secretary for COVID-19 response, in a news briefing.
About 88% of those cases occurred in students 19 and younger, she added.
Fehrenbach urged families to remember several distinctions when interpreting the new data, primarily that in late summer the community was facing the more transmissible delta variant that spread in schools.
Because of the delta wave, August and September recorded high levels of community transmission.
"We've seen during the course of the pandemic that outbreaks among school-age students correlates directly with the amount of disease in the community," Fehrenbach said. "So we would expect to see a high number of introductions into the school environment and a higher risk for outbreaks in schools."
It's also the first time since the pandemic closed schools that the state is offering full-time, in-person instruction, so outbreaks are expected, she said.
Most school districts have generally limited outbreaks to just a handful of children. The median number of cases per outbreak is five, Fehrenbach said. And in the greater Seattle area, districts have not reported a significant increase in cases since the school year started in September.
"That relatively small number of cases in each outbreak is an indication that schools are continuing to do a really good job on layered prevention measures and responding when they have cases of outbreaks," she said. "It's a good signal to us."
Some districts, however, have been forced to close because of larger outbreaks, including Madrona K-8 in Snohomish County's Edmonds School District, which announced last week it was switching back to remote learning after 26 students tested positive for the coronavirus within 10 days.
Childhood vaccinations will give schools another tool in managing outbreaks.
The federal government has allocated about 230,000 doses for Washington health care providers, while an additional 86,000 doses are expected to arrive at pharmacies through the federal pharmacy program, Michele Roberts, the state Department of Health's acting assistant secretary, said Wednesday.
Roberts said she expects kids could start being vaccinated by the end of the week.
Of the roughly 680,000 children in the 5- to 11-year-old population, Roberts said, she believes about 30% of parents will seek shots for their children.
Because the state is hoping to keep as many kids in in-person school as possible, Fehrenback also announced on Wednesday new guidelines that will soon require schools to offer families the CDC's seven-day quarantine option, in addition to the 14-day quarantine option most schools have already imposed.
Since last year, the CDC has offered three quarantine options for schools: a seven-day quarantine with the chance to return on the eighth day if you've had a negative COVID-19 test on the fifth day or later; a 10-day quarantine with no test; or a 14-day quarantine, which the CDC has said is safest.
Washington state has allowed schools to use all three, but will now require districts to offer students the chance to return to classrooms sooner if they're been exposed to the virus and tested negative for the disease.
The new guidance comes "given what we know about delta's incubation period and the availability of testing in our schools in Washington state as well as the broader community and the impacts of being out of school," Fehrenbach said.
Pediatric cases and case rates peaked around mid-September and have generally been declining across all age groups since then, though at slower rates. As of mid-October, the state counted about 193 cases per 100,000 people — roughly the same as the beginning of the month.
Epidemiologists have also recorded about 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 people as of mid-October, showing a much slower rate of decline than in late September.
"We need to keep working ... on driving down those disease rates," Fehrenbach said. "This will keep our children safer, especially those younger children that aren't quite yet eligible for a vaccine."