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With states placing orders for pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, Pa. and N.J. providers are ready — some with lollipops, costumed characters, and DJs

Vaccine providers are ready to give kids the shot as soon as Thursday and school clinics are planned.

Pharmacist Mayank Amin plans to don his Superman costume and host a celebration at Skippack Pharmacy when COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 to 11 begin, which could happen as soon as next week. Amin, who has been vaccinating adults since February, expects to receive pediatric vaccine doses next week.
Pharmacist Mayank Amin plans to don his Superman costume and host a celebration at Skippack Pharmacy when COVID-19 vaccinations for children 5 to 11 begin, which could happen as soon as next week. Amin, who has been vaccinating adults since February, expects to receive pediatric vaccine doses next week.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are placing orders for the pediatric coronavirus vaccine ahead of its anticipated approval, with hundreds of thousands of doses already set for shipment to the states and city.

Providers are preparing to open clinics to 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as Thursday — when the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is widely expected to be approved by the CDC — and are set to receive vaccine doses already being allocated by the federal government, according to health departments.

The Biden administration said last week that doses would be shipped nationwide as soon as the FDA authorizes the vaccine; that authorization occurred Friday. Now, the country awaits CDC approval.

The CDC’s advisory panel meets on the topic Tuesday and Wednesday; if immediately endorsed by the agency, the shots would be available to children Thursday, health officials in the region said.

When 6,000 pediatric doses arrive at Skippack Pharmacy next week, a cheering section is set to greet them in the parking lot, owner Mayank Amin said. Another celebration is planned inside the pharmacy for the first shots, and Amin said he expects to vaccinate 7,000 to 10,000 younger kids in the coming months.

“We’ve already had some parents say, ‘We’re going to be camping outside,’” Amin said with a laugh. And about 3,500 have signed up on the pharmacy’s online form to be notified of its first clinics, which are tentatively scheduled to begin at local high schools next weekend.

For Marc Ost, co-owner of Eric’s RX Shoppe in Horsham, the breakneck preparations also included the purchase of thousands of Dum Dum lollipops. He said he is coordinating with several Montgomery County school districts, where clinics should take place beginning Nov. 8.

Philadelphia began ordering the vaccine last week and will distribute it to providers so they’re ready to administer doses as soon as they have the green light, said Philadelphia health department spokesperson James Garrow.

“Providers could begin administering the vaccine as early as Nov. 4,” and have been notified of that, said Pennsylvania Department of Health spokesperson Mark O’Neill.

In New Jersey, the state health department ordered 206,000 doses this week to be distributed to providers ahead of opening day. After that, health officials expect ongoing weekly shipments from the federal government.

» READ MORE: Kids 5-11 will soon be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s what you need to know.

Last week, the Biden administration said it has enough doses for every child aged 5 to 11 — 28 million children. The vaccine will be available at pediatricians, pharmacies, community and rural health centers, and other providers, as well as clinics at schools.

The pediatric vaccine will be given in a smaller dose than the vaccines administered to people 12 and up, uses smaller needles, and has special packaging to differentiate it from the adult vaccine. Children 5 to 11 will get two shots of 10 micrograms each, three weeks apart. The vaccine was found to be more than 90% effective against symptomatic infection in a trial of more than 2,000 children.

With coronavirus cases declining across the country and the region in recent weeks, the impending authorization for the 5 to 11 crowd has the potential to further curb spread of the virus, including in schools, and ease the anxieties of many parents.

Children are far less vulnerable to severe illness than adults, but they’ve been making up a higher share of U.S. cases this fall, including in local areas like Montgomery County.

Nearly 60,000 Pennsylvania children aged 5 to 18 have tested positive for the virus since the week of Sept. 2, according to state data. The new case numbers for children this fall have far exceeded 2020′s numbers, the Pennsylvania Department of Health says.

And as an especially mobile population — interacting with many people each day in their school, extracurricular, social, and family lives — children are often vectors for the virus, public health experts say, meaning their immunizations could serve as critical tools in curbing overall transmission and moving everyone toward a more normal life.

That means pediatric immunizations could have a broader effect on the pandemic outlook for the winter and holiday season, which last year coincided with a record spike in cases.

While national polling has shown hesitancy among parents of 5- to 11-year-olds, Ost said he’s seen enthusiasm in the Montgomery County area he serves.

» READ MORE: Do children who’ve already had COVID-19 really need a vaccine?

“We have definitely heard some hesitancy, but we’ve probably heard more of the readiness and appreciation and wanting to return to normal,” he said. “Overall from what we’ve been seeing, it’s ‘I’m ready to go, give [my child] the shot today.’ ”

Getting those shots into little arms often prompts a special approach: Some school districts are planning to have balloons on hand and DJ’ed entertainment to calm kids’ nerves, Ost said. At Skippack’s clinics, Amin is preparing to make the shot as kid-friendly as possible, including employing costumed characters — and dressing up himself in his signature Superman suit.

“This could be a fearful experience for the child,” Amin said, “or it could change the way they view vaccines and COVID.”