As the race to vaccinate against COVID-19 continues, pediatricians are gearing up for when the Pfizer vaccine is approved for kids as young as 12 years old. But with stricter temperature requirements, a shorter shelf life and batches of 1,170 doses, the Pfizer vaccine poses hurdles — especially to rural communities such as Lewis County.
To put it simply, the Pfizer vaccine is “persnickety,” according to Northwest Pediatrics Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Polley. The size of the batches alone is an issue for small clinics in small communities.
“As of last week, I couldn’t place an order for Pfizer because I can’t take 1,100 doses,” Polley told The Chronicle. “We just can’t do it. We don’t have the capability. We couldn’t use them all. It’s an issue across the state for rural communities.”
Northwest Pediatrics has, however, already administered Pfizer doses. The vaccine is the only one approved for those who are 16 or 17, and the pediatric clinic has hosted vaccine events for locals up to 26 years old.
But to get their hands on Pfizer, Northwest Pediatrics and other rural clinics have to use a middle-man of sorts: larger clinics that can order the large batches from the state and then transfer smaller amounts to smaller clinics.
In the case of Northwest Pediatrics, Polley herself has made the drive to Olympia to pick up the 66 doses — just 11 vials — needed for one clinic. She made the trip in her personal vehicle on Monday.
While the transfer is above board and tracked by the state, Polley noted that not all small pediatric clinics necessarily have the connections or relationships to siphon off those smaller amounts from other providers.
News outlets late this week reported that Pfizer would begin shipping smaller amounts of their COVID-19 vaccine out to providers. But the shift may not happen until the end of May.
It's an effort to reach more individuals looking for a vaccine, and mirrors the more and more targeted approach to vaccination that public health officials have taken in recent weeks. In Lewis County, for example, public health officials announced this week that they’ll set up small clinics, run by the Washington Army National Guard, to parks, apartment complexes or anywhere where at least 20 locals want to get vaccinated.
As kids become the new vaccination frontier, Northwest Pediatrics will work to vaccinate youngsters, who can show up to vaccine clinics regardless if they are existing patients at the clinic. Polley said the hope is to run multiple Pfizer clinics a week.
While most young people who contract COVID-19 do not get severe symptoms, experts say vaccinating kids will be critical to ending the pandemic. Long-term impacts of COVID-19 on children is still unclear. And even if kids acquire COVID-19 and are asymptomatic, transmission and replication means the virus can continue mutating, creating variants more deadly or transmissible that could fuel another wave of illness.
“Maybe the B.1.1.7 makes it a little bit more transmissible, or the B.22.214.171.124 you get a little bit sicker,” Polley said. “But then what happens when those mutations combine together? You see what I’m saying?”
Polley said parents naturally have questions and concerns about vaccinating their children, and a common question is whether or not providers would give their own kids a dose.
“One-hundred percent. Two-hundred percent. Two-thousand percent,” she said. “We would never be giving it if we didn’t think it was good.”
Pfizer vaccines will be available to anyone 16 to 26 years old this Tuesday and Thursday at Northwest Pediatrics’ 1911 Cooks Hill Road location. The clinics are not listed on the state Department of Health website, so to make an appointment, call 360-736-6778 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.