More than 1,100 Minnesota vaccinators have signed up to give COVID-19 shots to kids ages 5 to 11 after the expected federal regulatory approvals come next week, state health officials said Wednesday.
There are about 505,000 children in the state who will become eligible for the lower-dose Pfizer vaccine.
Minnesota has ordered 170,000 doses and the state's pharmacies will receive about 85,000 doses from the federal government.
"This is a really important step towards better protecting our children from COVID-19, especially with the delta wave," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said.
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted Tuesday night that the Pfizer vaccine should be given to children, and the FDA is expected to signal its approval soon. Next week, a vaccine advisory group to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also expected to recommend the shot and then final approval will come from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director.
Minnesota providers "will be ready to start vaccinations potentially the next day," Malcolm said.
Vaccines for children will be available at 530 health care clinics and public health agencies, as well as at over 600 pharmacies.
The shots also will be administered at sites run by community groups as well as in some schools.
The state will help set up 20 school-based vaccination clinics in high-need areas over the next four weeks.
The Mall of America vaccination site has tripled its capacity to provide up to 1,500 shots per day to newly eligible children.
"We very much have designed this plan anticipating that there is going to be a group of folks that are very eager and group of folks who are going to be waiting a bit," Malcolm said. "We are planning for a pretty busy first couple of weeks. We hope that is what we see."
Supply should not be an issue as the state can order new doses each week.
"It is a very different situation than it was in December and January when there was such a limited supply," she said.
The Pfizer vaccine was available to those 16 and older when it was first approved last year. Since then, approval was expanded to the 12-15 age group.
But vaccination rates for older children are the lowest in the state.
While 70% of vaccine-eligible Minnesotans are fully vaccinated, the rates are 53% for the 12-15 age group and 59% for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The state's teachers union said state and school leaders should lower any barriers that hinder vaccination access.
"State and local leaders must be bold in their efforts to make this vaccine available to every student, no matter where they live or how much money they have," said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. "There are serious issues of access in our health care system that must be overcome."
Public health officials hope that enough children will get vaccinated to put a dent in school outbreak numbers as well as the rising number of children getting infected due to the highly contagious delta variant.
Since July 1, there have been more than 45,200 pediatric cases and more than 300 child hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in Minnesota.
COVID-19 and other medical conditions have created hospital bed capacity shortages, particularly for pediatric ICU beds.
"Capacity remains very tight," Malcolm said. "All but 17 pediatric ICU beds in the state were full."
Overall, the number of COVID-19 patients has fallen, with 911 in the state's hospitals as of Tuesday, including 220 in intensive care beds.
Minnesota health officials reported 1,810 new COVID-19 infections and 31 more deaths, bringing the state's pandemic totals to 781,548 cases and 8,612 fatalities.
The state's testing positivity rate fell to 7.1% from a recent high of 8.4%, while per capita case growth is at 40%, down from a peak of 53%. Both indicators, though, are still above cautionary levels, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.