Rhode Island health officials are preparing to begin vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 against COVID-19 as early as Nov. 8.

The state is placing orders for the kid-sized doses of the Pfizer vaccine in anticipation of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) meeting next week to consider their approval, said Alysia Mihalakos, chief of the state Department of Health’s center for Emergency preparedness and response.

The Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Tuesday voted unanimously, with one abstention, on a recommendation that the vaccine’s benefits in preventing COVID-19 among children 5 to 11 outweigh any potential risks, the Associated Press reported

Just over 40% of Rhode Island’s pediatric and family medical practices are prepared to administer COVID-19 vaccines to that age group, and  another 19% of practices are in the process of being approved to do so, according to data Mihalakos presented at a meeting Wednesday of the state COVID-19 Vaccine Subcommittee. 

State health officials said they hope more doctors offices will begin offering the vaccines. Mihalakos said the Health Department has been working to streamline the “onboarding” process after hearing feedback earlier this year that “the paperwork early on may have felt overwhelming.”

Pharmacy chains also are expected to begin offering the kid-sized Pfizer doses children as young as 5, Mihalakos said, but “parents are going to want to talk to their pediatricians’’ about the vaccinations.

To encourage doctors to discuss the vaccine with parents, some states have created specific billing codes to allow doctors to bill for the time, an idea that one doctor at the meeting said Rhode Island should consider. 

Another potential hurdle to more medical practices to offering the pediatric vaccine is the bulk- ordering requirements for the initial shipments. The minimum order will be 300 doses, which is too large for many practices, Mihalkaos said. The next round of shipments of the kid-sized Pfizer vaccine is expected to drop to 100 doses, she said, and officials are hoping that smaller amounts will be available for direct order “relatively soon.”

Demand for the new pediatric doses in Rhode Island is expected to vary widely between communities, based on the vaccination rates among 12-to-15-year olds. The vaccination rate among eligible 12-to-15-year-olds ranges from as low as 35% and 36% in Central Falls and Woonsocket, respectively, to as high as 80% in more affluent communities such as East Greenwich and Barrington, according to state data presented at the meeting Wednesday.

Health reporter Lynn Arditi can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org. Follow her on Twitter @ThePublicsRadio.