Hugs with friends. Birthday parties indoors. Pillow fights. Schoolchildren who got their first COVID-19 shots on Wednesday said these are the pleasures they’ve been waiting for as the US enters a huge new phase in fighting the pandemic.
Health officials hailed the shots as a huge success for children aged 5 to 11 after more than 18 months of illness, hospitalization, death and interrupted education.
Kid-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cleared two final hurdles Tuesday — a recommendation from CDC advisors, followed by directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Valensky’s green light.
In a Decatur, Georgia, pediatrician’s office, 10-year-old Mackenzie Olson took off her black leather jacket and rolled up her sleeves when she saw her mother.
“I see my friends but not the way I want to. I want to hug them, play games with them that we don’t normally get to,” and have a pillow fight with my best friend , Mackenzie said after shooting him at the Children’s Medical Group site.
With the federal government promising enough vaccines to protect the nation’s 28 million children in this age group, pediatricians’ offices and hospitals began vaccinating children. Schools, pharmacies and other places have plans to follow in the coming days.
The atmosphere surrounding the launch of Shots for primary age students was festive at many places. California vaccine sites welcome children with inflatable animals and give out coloring books and prizes. Vehicles queue up before dawn at an Atlanta site.
Many pediatricians’ offices expected strong interest in the shots, at least initially, but health officials are concerned about a lack of demand. Nearly two-thirds of parents recently polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would or would not wait for a vaccine for their children.
Brian Giglio, 40, of Alexandria, Virginia, brought his 8-year-old son, Carter, to Washington’s Children’s National Hospital for vaccinations, where children with underlying conditions first got it. Carter has type 1 diabetes which puts him at risk of complications if he is infected.
Giglio said the vaccine was “like a hallway pass for us to live life again.” And Carter said he can’t wait to leave the mask behind once he’s fully vaccinated, so he can smell things he could smell without it.
“I’m ready to trash it,” he said, although the CDC still recommends masks in schools and indoor public places where virus activity is high, even for fully immunized .
Kate Ziegler-Amon, 10, was first in line Wednesday for a drive-thru vaccination at Viral Solutions in Atlanta. The girl enthusiastically bounced around the car before the shot, which she broadcast live on her computer during the morning announcements at her elementary school.
Later, Kate said she was looking forward to hugging her friends next month and celebrating her birthday indoors, “instead of chilling outside at the birthday party.”
Hartford Hospital in Connecticut vaccinated seven children on Tuesday night, minutes after the CDC director gave the OK and three more early Wednesday. As they got their shots, a girl closed her eyes and a boy barely nodded, and other waiting children applauded.
The vaccine — one-third of the dose given to older children and adults and administered with child-sized needles — requires two more weeks, two doses three weeks apart, for complete protection. This means that children who are vaccinated before Thanksgiving will be covered until Christmas.
“The time before the winter holidays is very fortunate,” Dr. Jennifer Shu, whose children’s medical group office in Decatur, Georgia, began vaccination Wednesday. “This age group will be able to more safely spend the holidays with friends and family since the start of the pandemic.”
Thousands of pediatricians pre-ordered doses, and Pfizer began shipments shortly after the Food and Drug Administration’s decision Friday to authorize emergency use. Pfizer said it expects to do a total of 19,000 shipments of about 11 million doses in the coming days, and that millions more will be available to order on a weekly basis.
Officials said they expect a smooth rollout for adults, in contrast to the chaos that plagued the national population nearly a year ago.
Asked about parents having trouble finding vaccine appointments, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Ziants said the vaccine.gov website updated by Friday for parents to search for places near them. Will. He said the children’s vaccination campaign will go full swing next week as Pfizer continues to send millions more doses to locations across the country.
There are plans to set up more than 6,000 vaccination clinics in schools across the country ahead of the winter break, he said.
Walgreens plans to begin vaccinating children on Saturday and said parents can sign up online or call 1-800-Walgreens. CVS was also accepting appointments online and by phone at select pharmacies starting Sunday.
Despite the initial enthusiasm, not everyone is in a hurry to take the shot.
Hannah House, a Colorado mother of four children ages 2, 5, 7 and 8, has been vaccinated herself, but wants to see how child vaccines play out and study them in a larger childhood population.
“It hasn’t been studied for a long time. It just bothers me,” she said. “As long as I can wait, I’ll wait.”
At a White House briefing on Wednesday, Valensky said officials thoroughly reviewed all available data on the vaccine’s safety, efficacy and the immune response it elicits before recommending shots for children.
Dr. Ada Stewart, a black family physician in Columbia, South Carolina, and former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said she has seen the toll the virus has taken on young children – not only in family illness and death but in school disruptions. With , slipping grades and mental stress.
School closures during the pandemic are overwhelming children of color, widening academic gaps and worsening mental health, according to data presented Tuesday to CDC advisors. It closed more than 2,000 COVID-related schools in the first two months of the current school year.
A Pfizer study of 2,268 children found that the vaccine was effective in preventing approximately 91% of symptomatic COVID-19 infections. The FDA examined 3,100 vaccinated children and concluded that the shots are safe.
Some skeptics have questioned the need to vaccinate children because they are less likely than adults to develop severe COVID-19. But with the delta version, they become infected and “transmitted as easily as adults,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a recent White House briefing.
Infected children have also contributed to the US toll – nearly 46 million infections and more than 740,000 deaths.
Since the pandemic began, at least 94 children aged 5 to 11 years have died of COVID-19, more than 8,300 have been hospitalized and more than 5,000 have developed a severe inflammation linked to the coronavirus. situation has developed. Black and Latino youth and people with older status are among the hardest hit.
Caiwonte Jordan, 7) in black, has diabetes and took his shot at Children’s National Hospital in Washington. The vaccine gave his father peace of mind.
“Now I can sleep without worrying about him going to school,” said Brian Jordan. “Exposing him to the coronavirus can really affect him and mess him up.”
Associated Press writers Patty Nieberg in Denver, Angie Wang in Washington, Lauren Niergaard in Alexandria, Virginia, and Kate Brumbach and Ron Harris in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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