Vaccination of youngest Americans gets underway

NEEDHAM, Mass. — In some places, the campaign to vaccinate kids under five got off to a strong start. At Temple Beth Shalom, three hundred appointments went fast.

“The response was immediate and the slots filled up within 30 minutes,” said Organizer Barb Epstein, MPH, of the Holtzman Medical Group. “I think this is a really huge moment for parents with kids under five.”

That was definitely true for Michelle Schatz.

Her two young children, Gabby and Caleb, got their first doses at Tuesday’s clinic.

“Oh my God, I’m going to cry,” Schatz said. “I feel safe now.”

Schatz said her family has been fortunate not to get COVID-19 yet — and she hopes to keep it that way. But if one of the children does wind up infected, she’s hoping the vaccine will help.

“I feel safer if they were to get it now because they may not get as sick,” she said.

The enthusiastic response to vaccinating kids under five was not universal.

In Medway’s Choate Park, several parents said they hadn’t made up their minds yet on the shots.

“For my kids, I don’t know yet,” said Amanda Sears. “I have to read into it.”

“We’re told a lot of different things, the stories seem to change,” said Matt Tomasetti. “We’re going to do our own research. We’re not against it though. We won’t be the first in line, but probably won’t be the last, either.”

In Hopkinton, the Board of Health had no calls on the subject — until today, when the parent of a four-year-old inquired whether her child could be vaccinated.

“I think our role, as the local Board of Health, is to educate and let folks know it is safe, it’s effective,” said Simone Carter, RN, BSN, and public health nurse for the town.

What Carter couldn’t tell the caller — when, exactly, the town might start inoculating the youngest cohort. Boards of Health across the Commonwealth hope to get some guidance Wednesday from the state Department of Public Health on the matter. For now, Carter referred that caller to the child’s pediatrician.

“I don’t get the sense that there’s been a real push to get people excited about getting into the clinics to get their under-five-year-olds vaccinated,” said Hopkinton’s Health Director Shaun McAuliffe.

And if other age groups are any indication, excitement is waning — everywhere.

In the last three weeks, CDC data shows about half the states saw no discernible increase in the number of 5 to 11-year-olds getting initial shots. And the other half of states saw only a modest increase. Overall, just 29 percent of 5 to 11-year-olds in the U.S. are fully vaccinated.

The situation is better for adolescents in terms of full vaccination — with 59 percent of U.S. kids in the 12 to 17-year-old group protected against COVID-19. But momentum on adolescent shots has stalled — with 29 states reporting no increase in initial doses during the last three weeks and 21 states reporting just a slight increase.

McAuliffe said one of the challenges of vaccinating those under five is the time sometimes required to do it — plus the special skills needed to deal with small children. He worries that even if the town set up a clinic for the youngest children, it might be difficult to staff with volunteers.

Regardless, he is recommending parents of children under 5 get their kids vaccinated — at the pediatrician’s office, if need be — because so much is unknown about the long-term effects of COVID-19 not just in adults, but kids.

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