California poised to distribute vaccine to children when it's approved

California's top public health officials on Wednesday spoke about the rollout of the COVID vaccine for children, a day after an FDA advisory committee voted to approve the vaccine for younger kids.

"We will have 1.2 million doses the first week the vaccine is approved," said state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan in a phone briefing with the media this afternoon.

The California Department of Public Health is ready to help distribute the shots as soon as they're approved for that younger age group.

"It's a different formulation, its a smaller dose, its in smaller vials. The other nice thing about this new formulation it can last longer in refrigerators it does not need the ultra-cold storage," said Pan, adding that the  goal is to "pre-position doses as early as next week."

She urged parents to contact their pediatricians' offices to schedule an appointment as soon as its available, or go to the vaccine website, or call 833-422-4255.

Pan said vaccinating younger children will allow them to return to normal life and that "With holiday gatherings, vaccine authorization could not come at a better time."

When asked about indoor masking in schools, California Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mark Ghaly said that those mandates will not change during the winter months even after children are vaccinated.

Ghaly said even in places with high vaccination rates, medical experts are expecting COVID cases to rise this winter and put pressure on California hospitals. Right now, 87 percent of eligible Californians have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

"Not only in schools, but in other areas, we are maintaining the rules for a period that looks to be very challenging," Ghaly said.

Ghaly said after winter - and did not specify whether that meant end of January or February or later - the California Department of Public Health will look at some of the metrics needed to drop indoor mask mandates for students.

He said that criteria would likely include things like vaccination rates and COVID case and hospitalization rates.

The California update came a day after a panel of doctors on the FDA advisory panel on Tuesday decided that the benefits of vaccinating kids ages 5 to 11 outweighed the risks. 

And they voted almost unanimously - 17 saying yes, one abstaining - to recommend the FDA authorize Pfizer's vaccine for that age group.

During the daylong hearing, there was debate among the doctors on the panel about whether COVID poses enough of a risk to children, to warrant vaccinations. 

FDA Vaccine Chief Peter Marks told the panel, that in young children, there have been over 1.9 million infections, over 8,300 hospitalizations, "about a third of which have required intensive care unit stays."

The next step is approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Their vaccine advisory committee will meet to discuss this topic next Tuesday and Wednesday. 

And if the CDC signs off - then doses of the Pfizer vaccine for children and the smaller syringes that go with them - would start shipping to pediatricians offices, hospitals and pharmacies across the country.

A total of 28 million children would become eligible for those shots.