The Defense Department began shipping pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to military health facilities Tuesday, shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the shots for children ages 5 to 11.
Defense Health Agency spokesman Peter Graves said Thursday that multiple sites in 15 states have received the vaccine and the agency anticipates "continued deliveries throughout the rest of the week."
The DoD on Wednesday authorized military treatment facilities and other defense immunization sites to begin offering the vaccine. The move followed an emergency use authorization issued by the Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 29 and a recommendation Tuesday from the CDC that children be vaccinated against the illness.
Millions of doses have been packaged and shipped across the country already, with the children's vaccination program expected to be completely up and running next week, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The vaccine for young children is the same formulation given to those ages 12 and up but one-third of the dosage; it is packaged separately from shots for teens and adults.
"This is an exciting and long-awaited moment for parents and for our vaccination program," Fauci said Wednesday during a press call with reporters.
The vaccines will be available at military hospitals and clinics for Tricare beneficiaries, as well as through network pharmacies and local public health initiatives. Walgreens -- a Tricare network pharmacy -- announced it will start appointments beginning Saturday in certain locations across the country; scheduling has already begun.
Tricare beneficiaries overseas will have a slightly longer wait for the pediatric vaccine. According to Graves, the Defense Logistics Agency has ordered the vaccine for military families overseas and will ship it when received.
There are roughly 1.2 million children of active-duty service members who are ages 18 and under.
According to CDC data, 1.9 million American children ages 5 to 11 have contracted the disease and more than 8,000 have been hospitalized. There have been 2,000 cases of COVID-related multisystem inflammatory disease -- a life-threatening condition that affects multiple organs and bodily functions -- among those children and at least 94 deaths.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that the expansion of vaccine eligibility marks a turning point in the fight against COVID-19. Since February 2020, 46.2 million Americans have contracted the illness and 750,424 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"It will allow parents to end months of anxious worrying about their kids, and reduce the extent to which children spread the virus to others," Biden said.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that, although the risk of severe complications from COVID-19 is low in children, it still remains "too high and too devastating for our children," and she encouraged parents to immunize their kids.
She added that the vaccine has been proven safe in clinical trials, carries few side effects and is nearly 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5 to 11.
"The safety of our children is of utmost importance to me, and I believe these vaccines will help us to better protect our children from COVID-19," Walensky said.
As of Wednesday, 80% -- four out of five -- of all adult Americans had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Biden said.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.