The world’s first mass coronavirus inoculation campaign for children kicked off in earnest in the United States on Thursday after the federal government recommended making the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available to those aged 12 to 15.
Even as the decision was embraced by millions of parents wearied by pandemic restrictions and desperate to get their children back into classrooms, states, counties, and school districts around the country were trying to figure out the most reassuring and expedient ways to offer the shots.
The various authorities were making plans to offer vaccines not only in schools, but also at pediatricians’ offices, day camps, parks, and even beaches.
President Biden, who hailed the vaccine as “safe, effective, easy, fast, and free,” said that as many as 20,000 pharmacies stood ready to start giving shots on Thursday.
Some states, including Delaware, Georgia, and Maine, had already started to offer doses to children after the authorization of the vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday.
But the ruling by the CDC was the final step in the federal process that allows for widespread inoculations of the roughly 17 million adolescents in the United States ages 12 to 15.
For many parents, it could not come too soon. About one-third of eighth graders, usually 13 or 14 years old, are still in remote learning.
But the authorities must also overcome a significant amount of hesitancy. A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that many parents — even some who eagerly got their own coronavirus shots — were reluctant to vaccinate pubescent children.
States have differing standards on what could be used to prove parental consent.
In Los Angeles, the health authorities require anyone younger than 18 to be accompanied by a parent, guardian, or responsible adult and to present photo identification and verification of age, county officials said.
In Maine, a parent does not need to be with the child as long as the adult provides permission over the phone or signs a form beforehand.
Federal and local officials said that there should be no problem with supply meeting demand. The expansion of the US vaccination effort underscored the widening gulf in the world’s inoculation campaigns even as the pandemic gathers force in several regions.
NEW YORK TIMES
Biden announces $7.4 billion to hire more public health workers amid the pandemic
The White House announced Thursday that it is investing $7.4 billion to hire more public health workers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and future health crises. The money will come from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which Congress passed in March.
The funds could give a much-needed boost to America’s crumbling public health infrastructure. After decades of chronic underfunding, US public health departments last year showed how ill-equipped they are to carry out basic functions, let alone serve as the last line of defense against the most acute threat to the nation’s health in generations.
The Biden administration said $4.4 billion will go toward boosting states’ overstretched public health departments, allowing them to hire disease specialists to do contact tracing, case management, and support outbreak investigations and school nurses to help schools reopen. Some of the money will also go to expanding the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which plays a critical role in containing outbreaks.
The remaining $3 billion will be used to create a new grant program to train and modernize the country’s public health workforce. Applicants for those grants will be asked to prioritize recruiting staff from the communities they will serve, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.
Free Shake Shack, college scholarships, and $1 million prizes: Vaccine incentives becoming more common as demand for shots slows
In Long Beach, Calif., the mayor is promoting free aquarium tickets for those who get vaccinated.
In New York, the immunized can grab free fries at Shake Shack — an effort that Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday while digging into his own meal.
Leaders nationwide are increasingly turning to incentives as demand for coronavirus vaccines slows. In the most dramatic offer so far, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, said this week that vaccinated residents would be eligible for $1 million lottery prizes and full-ride college scholarships.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar-drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’” the governor said as he explained the headline-grabbing initiative funded with federal coronavirus relief money. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, some states are making a very different pitch: The sooner you get a shot, the sooner the state will fully reopen.
The latest is Oregon, where the governor said on Tuesday that the state’s remaining restrictions would stay in place until at least 70 percent of eligible residents 16 and older had at least one shot.
“We still have some work to do to reach our 70 percent goal, but I am confident we can get there in June and return Oregon to a sense of normalcy,” said Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat.
Oregon, where 49 percent of residents have had at least one dose, is one of the few states that is explicitly tying lifting its indoor mask requirement to the adult vaccination rate. Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania also are awaiting the 70 percent threshold before moving forward with reopening plans.
In Michigan, capacity limits for businesses will lift two weeks after 65 percent of eligible residents have been vaccinated, and the gatherings and face mask orders will end two weeks after 70 percent of eligible residents have been fully vaccinated, Governor Gretchen Whitmer said. Thirty-seven percent of residents have been immunized in the state, which has shown one of the country’s steepest drops in cases over the past two weeks. The average number of new infections reported daily during that time sank 45 percent and hospitalizations were down 32 percent.
Pennsylvania is waiting for 70 percents of adults to be fully vaccinated before lifting its mask mandate. Only 37 percent of adults have been immunized in the state.
The mask requirement in Minnesota will be lifted once 70 percent of residents 16 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but no later than July 1, Governor Tim Walz said. Half of Minnesotans have had at least one dose.
On Wednesday, Maryland said that every business would be allowed to open, starting on Saturday, at 100 percent capacity, but that the indoor mask requirement would be in place until 70 percent of adults had received one dose. So far, only 52 percent have met that guideline.
WASHINGTON POST AND NEW YORK TIMES
40 Japanese towns give up hosting Olympic athletes as the country faces another COVID-19 outbreak
SINGAPORE — About 40 Japanese towns have pulled out of arrangements to host Olympic athletes for pre-competition events this summer, the country’s Nikkei newspaper reported Thursday, in the latest blow to the already delayed and troubled Tokyo 2020 Games.
The towns cited concerns about medical capacity as Japan battles its latest COVID-19 outbreak. The East Asian nation reported 7,056 new coronavirus cases Wednesday amid rising concerns by medical professionals of a potential shortage in critical care capacity. Some 14 elderly COVID-19 patients who resided at an Osaka nursing home died before they could be hospitalized, local media recently reported.