Child Vaccine Demand Underscores Deep Divisions in U.S.
(Bloomberg) -- Finally, it’s the kids’ turn.
After months of home schooling and school quarantines, children are getting their Covid-19 vaccines. And early indications are the rollout is mirroring what grownups have just experienced: The children’s vaccine is in high demand in urban coastal areas for the most part, it has been met with deep skepticism in many segments of society and is difficult to get in rural areas off the beaten track.
The result may be that areas with high vaccination rates already will get even more inoculated and protected while others remain vulnerable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that the virus is among the top 10 leading causes of death among children 5 to 11 in the last year.
Even so, less than one third of parents said they are eager to get their kids 5 to 11 vaccinated, while another third said they’ll wait and see how the vaccine is working, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The final third said they will definitely not get the vaccine for their kids.
Hospitals around the country are playing a large role in getting kids vaccinated, as are community clinics, pharmacies, pediatricians’ offices and schools. In some places that received vaccines right away, the appointment books filled up almost immediately.
“It was very soul filling,” said Claire Boogaard, medical director of the Covid-19 vaccine program at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., which has more than enough doses for the 1,500 shots the hospital staff plan to administer this week to kids 5 to 11 years old. “To get shots in arms and see kids smiling is really rewarding.” Like the vaccine rollout for adults in mass clinics and elsewhere, Children’s National is prioritizing kids at highest risk of developing severe Covid-19.
About 28 million kids became eligible for Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s vaccine following Food and Drug Administration authorization Oct. 29 and the CDC signoff on Tuesday. Federal officials began shipping doses to thousands of sites after the FDA authorization so clinics could be ready as soon as the CDC signed off.
The vaccines for children are a third of the dose that adults receive. They’re distinguished by an orange vial cap. (Adult doses have a purple cap.) The Biden administration expects to deliver about 15 million doses to thousands of sites over the first week.
Much like Children’s National, UVA Health’s clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia, is fully booked. It started scheduling appointments at an outpatient pediatrics facility Wednesday.
“Within 24 hours, all our appointment spots for a week had been filled already and our phones are ringing off the hook,” said Debbie-Ann Shirley, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UVA Health who will help with the clinic when vaccinations with pediatric doses start Monday.
AshBritt, an emergency and logistics contractor, is helping run nine vaccination clinics throughout Virginia and all 1,900 of their daily appointments have been booked the last couple days. Kids who go through an AshBritt-run clinic get all kinds of anxiety-easing perks, from superhero art on the walls in small, curtained-off areas to a selfie station as they exit.
Brittany Perkins Castillo, chief executive officer of AshBritt, has a 1- and 2-year-old and is deeply familiar with the need to make vaccinations comfortable for kids.
“You can’t have the same model for kids as for elderly to be effective,” she said.
For some children, the model tends to include a bit of candy. “Everything is going really smoothly,” said Maria Lopez, owner of Mission Wellness Pharmacy in San Francisco, who is helping give vaccines to kids at private schools in the area.
On Friday, her pharmacy staff gave almost 400 pediatric Covid-19 vaccines at a Catholic school and another 100 at the pharmacy. There have been some tears, Lopez said, but post-vaccination lollipops have helped to keep them to a minimum.
In other areas, the reception has been chillier, with parents on the fence about the need or urgency for a vaccine. And in rural areas and small towns, parents are frustrated by what are for now hours-long drives to get their kids a shot.
Shereef Elnahal, CEO of University Hospital in Newark, said the hospital received doses right away on Tuesday and expects to have 1,800 shots by the end of this week. Based on the hospital’s estimates of demand, he doesn’t expect to get through those shots for a couple weeks.
On Wednesday, the hospital began offering the vaccine to parents and guardians of kids who came through its system.
“Most parents were not comfortable at this time,” Elnahal said. “That was indicative of the challenge. We know this is not going to be easy for even vaccinated parents.”
Many parents worry about the rapid pace of the vaccine’s development -- just as many did for the vaccine for adults. And they point to the small number of kids -- a few thousand -- that Pfizer studied in a clinical trial.
Elnahal, formerly New Jersey’s Health Commissioner, will hold information sessions in Newark and the surrounding community to answer questions and get the facts out to parents. Many parents with a wait-and-see attitude now will ultimately come around, predicts Leana Wen, an emergency physician and health policy professor at George Washington University.
Back to Normal
“I would absolutely expect this group will be convinced to get the vaccine once they see the experiences of millions of children who have the benefit of protection and can go back to pre-pandemic normal,” Wen said.
Schools should link widespread vaccination to dropping mask-wearing rules, she said.
Melissa Moore, who lives in Toccoa, Georgia, with her three kids, two of whom just became eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine, doesn’t need convincing, just access. She is gearing up to travel from her rural town an hour and a half south to Atlanta to get her children vaccinated. She’s checked pharmacies and grocery stores around her. No no one is offering it, and she said she hasn’t seen any information released from the local health department.
She lives in an area that still has a high transmission rate so her family isn’t going to church or restaurants or participating in sports leagues.
“Right now, I’m just pretty desperate to get my children vaccinated, since I wasn’t able to rely on my community to help out with that,” she said.
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