Cuddles with friends. Birthday parties inside. Pillow battles. Schoolchildren who received their first COVID-19 injections on Wednesday said these are the pleasures they look forward to as the United States enters a major new phase in the fight against the pandemic.
Health officials hailed the shots for children aged 5 to 11 as a major breakthrough after more than 18 months of illness, hospitalizations, death and disrupted education.
Child-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine broke two final hurdles on Tuesday – a recommendation from CDC advisers, followed by a green light from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a pediatrician’s office in Decatur, Ga., Mackenzie Olson, 10, took off his black leather jacket and rolled up his sleeve as his mother watched.
âI see my friends but not the way I want them to. I want to hug them, play games with them that we don’t normally go to normally, âand have a pillow fight with her best friend, Mackenzie said after getting the shot on the Children’s Medical Group website.
With the federal government pledging enough vaccines to protect the nation’s 28 million children in this age group, pediatrician offices and hospitals have started immunizing children. Schools, pharmacies and other places plan to follow suit in the days to come.
The atmosphere surrounding the launch of the shots for elementary school students was festive in several places. California vaccination sites welcomed children with inflatable animals and handed out coloring books and prizes. Vehicles lined up before dawn at an Atlanta site.
Many pediatrician offices expected strong interest in injections at least initially, but health officials are concerned that demand is declining. Almost two-thirds of parents recently surveyed by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would wait or not seek vaccines for their children.
Brian Giglio, 40, of Alexandria, Va., Took his 8-year-old son, Carter, for the vaccine at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, where children with underlying conditions were vaccinated for the first time . Carter has type 1 diabetes which puts him at risk for complications if he were infected.
Giglio said the vaccine was “like a pass to get us back to life.” And Carter said he can’t wait to leave the masks behind once he’s fully vaccinated, so he can smell the things he could smell without it.
âI’m ready to throw it away,â he said, although the CDC still recommends masks in schools and indoor public spaces where viral activity is high, even for fully vaccinated people.
Cate Zeigler-Amon, 10, was on the front line Wednesday for a drive-thru vaccination at Viral Solutions in Atlanta. The girl enthusiastically bounced around the car before the gunshot, which she streamed live to her computer during the morning announcements at her elementary school.
Afterward, Cate said she was looking forward to hugging her friends and celebrating her birthday indoors next month “instead of having a frosty birthday party outside.”
Connecticut’s Hartford Hospital vaccinated seven young people on Tuesday night, minutes after the CDC director agreed, and three more early Wednesday. As they received their injections, a girl closed her eyes and a boy barely flinched, and other waiting children clapped.
The vaccine – one-third the dose given to older children and adults and given with child-sized needles – requires two doses three weeks apart, plus an additional two weeks for full protection. This means that children who get vaccinated before Thanksgiving will be covered before Christmas.
âThe timing before winter break is very happy,â said Dr. Jennifer Shu, whose Children’s Medical Group office in Decatur, Ga., Began immunizing early Wednesday. “This age group will be able to vacation with friends and family more safely than they have been able to since the start of the pandemic.”
Thousands of pediatricians have pre-ordered doses, and Pfizer began shipments shortly after the Food and Drug Administration‘s decision on Friday to allow emergency use. Pfizer said it plans to make 19,000 shipments totaling about 11 million doses in the coming days, with millions more available to order each week.
Authorities said they expected a smooth deployment, unlike the chaos that plagued nationwide for adults nearly a year ago.
Asked about parents’ difficulties finding vaccine appointments, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said the vaccines.gov website will be updated by Friday for parents to search locations near them. He said the children’s immunization campaign will go full steam ahead next week as Pfizer continues to ship millions of additional doses to locations across the country.
More than 6,000 vaccination clinics are planned in schools across the country before the winter break, he said.
Walgreens planned to start children’s immunizations on Saturday and said parents can register online or by calling 1-800-Walgreens. CVS also accepted appointments online and by phone at certain pharmacies from Sunday.
Despite the initial enthusiasm, not everyone is rushing to take pictures.
Hannah Hause, a Colorado mother of four ages 2, 5, 7 and 8, is herself vaccinated but wants to see how childhood vaccines play out and are being studied in the larger infant population.
âIt is not studied in the long term. It just makes me nervous, âshe said. “As long as I can wait, I will wait.”
During a White House briefing on Wednesday, Walensky said authorities had carefully reviewed all available data on the safety, efficacy and immune response of the vaccine it generates before recommending injections for children.
Dr Ada Stewart, a black family doctor in Columbia, South Carolina, and former president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said she has seen the devastation the virus has taken on young children – not only in family illnesses and deaths, but with school disruptions, declining grades and mental strain.
School closures throughout the pandemic have taken a disproportionate burden on children of color, widening educational gaps and worsening mental health, according to data presented to CDC advisers on Tuesday. It showed more than 2,000 school closures linked to COVID in the first two months of the current school year.
A Pfizer study of 2,268 children found the vaccine to be nearly 91% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. The FDA has examined 3,100 vaccinated children and found the injections to be safe.
Some skeptics have questioned the need for children to be vaccinated because they are less likely than adults to develop severe COVID-19. But with the delta variant, they get infected and transmit “just as easily as adults,” Dr Anthony Fauci said in a recent White House briefing.
Infected children have also contributed to the American toll – nearly 46 million infections and more than 740,000 deaths.
Since the start of the pandemic, at least 94 children aged 5 to 11 have died from COVID-19, more than 8,300 have been hospitalized and more than 5,000 have developed severe inflammatory disease linked to the coronavirus. Black and Latino youth and those with chronic illnesses are among the hardest hit.
Kye’vontay Jordan, 7, who is black, has diabetes and was vaccinated at Children’s National Hospital in Washington. The vaccine reassured his father.
âNow I can sleep without worrying about him going to school,â Brian Jordan said. âBeing exposed to the coronavirus could really affect it and ruin it. “
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