Little Fletcher Pack woke up Monday morning and asked, “Is vaccine day today?”
For the 3-year-old from Lexington, South Carolina, the answer was yes.
The country’s babies, toddlers and toddlers are finally getting their chance at COVID-19 vaccination, as the US rolls out shots for little ones this week. Shipments arrived at some locations over the weekend and some locations, including a Walgreens in South Carolina and another in New York, opened appointments for Monday.
Fletcher’s mother said once her son is fully vaccinated, he can finally go bowling and visit the nearby children’s museum.
“He’s never really played with another kid inside before,” McKenzie Pack said. “It will be a very big change for our family.”
She started looking for an appointment last week when US regulators took steps to accept the vaccines for children from 6 months to 5 years old.
“It’s just a relief,” Pack said. “With this vaccine, it will be his best chance to return to normal and have a normal childhood.”
The Food and Drug Administration gave the Modern and Pfizer child shots the green light on Friday and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended it on Saturday. In the US, COVID-19 vaccines were tested for the first time and given to healthcare workers and older adults in late 2020. Teenagers and children of school-going age were added last year.
“This is definitely an exciting moment in what has become a very long campaign to vaccinate people against COVID-19,” says Dr. Matthew Harris, an emergency room pediatrician at Northwell Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York.
Many parents were anxiously awaiting the launch, and Harris said shots for his own 9-month-old are a “matter of when, not when.”
About 18 million young people under 5 are eligible.
“It’s just a big step towards normality,” says dr. Debra Langlois, pediatrician at the University of Michigan Health CS Mott Children’s Hospital.
“We are two-plus years into this pandemic and there are things my 4-year-old has never been able to do,” Langlois said.
The family skipped a trip to Disneyland and a popular Michigan vacation island because the ferry ride to Mackinac Island would mean mingling with unmasked passengers.
President Joe Biden, public health authorities and pediatricians applauded the moment. But they also acknowledged that it could be a challenge to get some parents on board, given disappointing vaccination rates – about 30% – in school-age children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association were among physician groups that encouraged physicians and families to vaccinate young children.
The CDC recommends vaccination even for those who have already had COVID-19 to protect against reinfection, and says it is okay to get other vaccines at the same time. For the youngest children, there is Pfizer’s three-shot series or Moderna’s two shots.
In New York’s largely Latino neighborhood, Washington Heights, dr. Juan Tapia Mendoza’s clinic ordered 300 doses of the total vaccines. He said he needs educational materials that directly address the spread of misinformation among parents.
His approach would be to tell parents “If they were my children, I would have vaccinated them.”
“Because the virus still exists. Many people still die from coronavirus. Children are infected and some children are seriously affected and no one wants to see a child very ill.”
Some hospitals are planning vaccination opportunities later this week.
Chicago is one of the places offering COVID-19 shots in people’s homes and plans to open registration for home appointments for babies and other young children this week, said Maribel Chavez-Torres, a deputy commissioner for the city’s department of public health, said.
Dr. Pam Zeitlin, director of pediatric medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, recommends that parents get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Some parents are afraid that the younger the child, the more vulnerable they may be to vaccine side effects,” Zeitlin said, but that’s not what Pfizer and Moderna studies have found. Side effects were as seen with other childhood vaccines – fever, irritability and fatigue.