TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas will encourage its public schools to hold clinics for vaccinating children ages 5 through 11 against COVID-19 and some doses already have arrived in the state, Gov. Laura Kelly said Wednesday.
The state expects to receive nearly 128,000 doses of a vaccine for younger children manufactured by Pfizer by next week. Kelly announced that all children in that age group will be eligible for shots immediately, that some doses already have arrived, and that most should be in the state by Friday.
The Democratic governor said Kansas is following recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccinating children. Kansas has about 276,000 children from 5 through 11, so the doses it expects to receive will be enough for 46% of them to get the first of two shots.
Some Kansas schools already have had clinics earlier this year to vaccinate children 12 to 17. However, the state lags behind the nation in inoculating that group, with 52.7% having received at least one of two shots, compared with 59.9% for the U.S., according to a task force on the pandemic and schools formed by Kelly.
"Our schools will continue to be essential partners throughout the vaccine distribution process," Kelly said during a Zoom meeting of the task force. "We know that the best way to get Kansans vaccinated is to bring the vaccine to them."
Federal health authorities gave the final go-ahead Tuesday for the Pfizer vaccine for younger children, with doses a third of those given to teenagers and adults. The state Department of Health and Environment said this week that Kansas expects to receive 96,900 doses of the vaccines for younger children directly, with an additional 31,000 going to Kansas pharmacies.
Kelly said about half of the total doses will go to local health departments, which can work with schools on vaccination clinics.
"We are all working for the same common purpose, which is let's keep kids in school, let's keep our staff and our kids and our families safe," state Education Commissioner Randy Watson said during the Zoom meeting.
Federal officials' authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for younger children came only days after a committee of the Republican-controlled Legislature wrapped up two days of hearings on COVID-19 vaccine mandates for as many as 100 million American workers from Democratic President Joe Biden's administration.
Almost all of the dozens of speakers criticized the mandates as an attack on personal liberty and some repeated widespread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.
A few critics saw federal authorization of COVID-19 vaccines for younger children as the prelude to mandating them for enrolling in school. Kansas requires 10 vaccines for K-12 students, including shots for polio, chickenpox, measles and hepatitis.
Kelly said decisions about vaccinating children against COVID-19 will be left to parents.
She also said, "I cannot overstate the importance of the vaccine for kids in our pandemic response efforts."
Kelly has directed state agencies under her direct control to continue having their employees work remotely where possible until the end of the year. Many state employees had spent more than a year working remotely when the state resumed normal operations in June, only to return to remote work in late August because of the spread of the more contagious delta variant.