Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, of Huntington Village Pediatrics, said her office...

Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, of Huntington Village Pediatrics, said her office is looking at saving blocks of time for COVID-19 vaccinations for ages 5 to 11, including weekend hours, as well as days when schools are closed. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Island pediatricians are preparing to work extra hours and to transform day camps into drive-thru vaccination centers now that the Food and Drug Administration has signed off on a COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.

The FDA on Friday approved the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for more than 28 million nationally in that age group. The vaccine recommendation still needs to be reviewed next week by an advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Pediatricians should be the main focus on initiatives to get the vaccine out, and we’ve been eagerly looking forward to being able to get involved," said Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, of Huntington Village Pediatrics. "Parents trust their pediatricians. We discuss vaccinations every single day with patients, and we’ve been doing that since long before COVID."

What to know

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could be available to children ages of 5 to 11 within the next week. 

Pediatricians on Long Island expect to play a vital role in administering the COVID-19 vaccine to their young patients. 

Some practices will have late and weekend hours, as well as large vaccination events at two Long Island camps.

Health experts have said vaccinating younger children is key to slowing and controlling the coronavirus pandemic. They believe parents will be more comfortable having the shots administered by a pediatrician they know or a clinic organized by their pediatrician’s office, rather than the massive government sites used to vaccinate adults and older teens.

Pediatricians said they plan to conduct webinars to answer questions and concerns from parents, especially about possible side effects. Pfizer said a clinical trial of 2,268 children from the ages of 5 to 11 showed the vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing symptomatic infection.

Pfizer already had received emergency use authorization from the FDA for children 12 and older. State figures show 54.3% of children from the ages of 12 to 15 on Long Island have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

An FDA advisory panel on Tuesday approved Pfizer's emergency use authorization request to include ages 5 to 11, at a smaller dose than for those 12 and above. That recommendation was formally accepted by the FDA on Friday. The CDC could make the final decision as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, after the request is reviewed by its advisory panel and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

According to 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 152,574 children ages 5-13 living in Suffolk County and 146,850 children those ages living in Nassau County.

Pfizer, to date, is the only vaccine available for those 12 and up. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can only be administered to people 18 and over, but both companies are exploring use for younger populations.

Group schedules vaccination events

Allied Physicians Group, a Melville-based partnership of 180 pediatric providers, tentatively has scheduled vaccination events for Nov. 13-14 at Coleman Campground in Freeport and Crestwood Country Day Camp in Melville, with the second doses to be administered at the same locations on Dec. 4-5.

Dr. Marc Lashley, who has an office in Valley Stream and leads the Allied Physicians Group COVID Vaccine Taskforce, said large sites are needed to accommodate young patients whose parents are eager to get them vaccinated.

"The capacity of my office is such that I can only vaccinate about 20 children a day because I'm busy also seeing sick children and checkups," he said. "We do a lot of COVID testing now because every time a child has a runny nose, they're sent to the pediatrician for a COVID test. We are already stressed and inundated. So we came up with this plan."

Lashley said Allied plans to vaccinate about 1,000 children a day. The group has hired licensed practical nurses to help, and many Allied pediatricians and physicians assistants will be volunteering their time.

Meltzer Krief said her office is looking at saving blocks of time for COVID-19 vaccinations, including weekend hours, as well as days when schools are closed.

"Every year we hold flu clinics because children under 5 are particularly at risk from complications of the flu," said Meltzer Krief, who also sits on the executive council of the Long Island-Brooklyn/Queens chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We’ll be more than happy to come in on our days off, along with our pediatric nurses, to get our patients immunized."

Dr. Sophia Jan, who is division chief of general pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and oversees Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s General Pediatrics at New Hyde Park, said all the primary care offices plan to offer the vaccines to those under 12 once they are allowed.

"We are going to do our best to try to make sure that the vaccine is available for administration during times that are convenient for parents so that kids don't have to miss school," she said, adding that evening and weekend hours likely will be extended. "I feel like we’re ready."

Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside will take its vaccination mobile unit to local schools if the vaccine is approved, hospital spokesman Joe Calderone said.

"We are working out the details now but already have requests from several school districts," Calderone said. "The program will be overseen by our pediatric department."

'I trust the science and I feel secure'

Similar to the reaction to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine for adults, some parents will want to get their kids vaccinated immediately, while others will be reluctant or outright opposed.

"I trust the science, and I feel secure in myself getting vaccinated and the research they have done," said Nicole Sano, of North Bellmore, who intends to get her 5-year-old son vaccinated. "My parents love spending time with my kids, but I worry because he is unvaccinated and he is in school. I'm also concerned about him getting other people sick. My grandmother is 92, and we want her to be able to be around him."

Experts said they will focus on vaccinating those who are interested first while making themselves available to parents who may have questions about the safety of the vaccine and possible side effects.

Jan said 5- to 11-year-olds would get 10 micrograms per dose, as opposed to the 30 micrograms each dose for adults. Clinical trials for 5 to 11 showed some side effects from the vaccine, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills, according to Pfizer.

The CDC has said it is monitoring incidents of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, that were reported by some people who received the vaccine, especially male adolescents and young adults. Symptoms of myocarditis include chest pain, shortness of breath and a fluttering or pounding heart.

That is one of the reasons Krystle Pennacchia, of Lindenhurst, has decided not to get her 11-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter the vaccine.

"I’m not willing to take that chance with my children’s health," Pennacchia said. "The vaccine is very new, and I hear about children having inflammation of the heart. And some people who were vaccinated are having symptoms like a heart attack, and that’s not OK. I think natural immunity is healthier and safer right now."

Documents submitted by Pifzer to the FDA say none of the children in the clinical study for 5 to 11 developed myocarditis, but noted the "number of participants in the current clinical development program is too small to detect." The company said long-term safety of the vaccine in children will be the subject of ongoing studies.

Jan said data showed that most cases of myocarditis in children and young adults were rare and resolved quickly. She said myocarditis, as a result of getting infected with COVID-19, is much more severe.

She said families should have discussions with their pediatricians about the vaccine.

"They should feel empowered to ask all of their questions over and over again until they are satisfactorily answered," Jan said.

With Olivia Winslow

What to know

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could be available to children ages of 5 to 11 within the next week.

Pediatricians on Long Island expect to play a vital role in administering the COVID-19 vaccine to their young patients.

Some practices will have late and weekend hours, as well as large vaccination events at two Long Island camps.

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