#childsafety | COVID vaccines for younger kids have been popular since becoming available


Kiersten Hykes was ending her day pretty much the same way she ends every day.

The 10-year-old Fleetwood middle-schooler had crawled into bed and, before nodding off to sleep, pulled out her phone to set an alarm for the next morning.

And, then it happened.

“I was setting my alarm at night, and then I saw Apple News said the Pfizer vaccine has now been approved for 5-to-11-year-olds,” she said. “I ran into my Mom and Dad’s room and told Mom and Dad. I told them I wanted to sign up as soon as possible.”

Kiersten Hykes, 10, get her first dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine. (Courtesy of Val Hykes)

Kiersten didn’t want to wait around, she had been doing enough of that already. She had been following news of the COVID-19 vaccines, checking each day to see if it was finally her turn to get it.

“I was just excited because I knew that it was going to help other people and it was going to help get things back to normal,” she said.

Within a week after seeing the news, she got her chance to do her part to fight the pandemic. Kiersten was able to schedule an appointment at a Nov. 6 vaccine clinic at the Gov. Mifflin Intermediate School held by the Medicine Shoppe of Shillington.

“I was nervous at the beginning,” she said of having to face the needle for her first jab. “But after it happened it was fine.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s granted emergency approval for the Pfizer COVID vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 on Oct. 29. A few days later, on Nov. 2, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave a final sign-off that officially opened the doors for younger kids to get the shot.

And although some parents are still wary of getting their kids — and often themselves — immunized, many others are jumping at the chance to secure an extra layer of protection against the deadly pandemic that has terrorized the world for more than a year and a half.

Statistics show about 1,500 kids have received a first dose in Berks. That number includes the 600 at the Mifflin clinic.

About the vaccine

Kids ages 5 to 11 aren’t getting quite the same shot that older people are.

While the contents of the Pfizer vaccine are the same, they’re only being given 10-microgram doses. That’s a third of the amount being administrated to people older than 12.

The kid-size doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (Pfizer via AP)

The vaccine is still a two-dose series, with kids advised to get their second shot about three weeks after the first.

According to information provided by the FDA when it granted emergency use approval, the Pfizer vaccine has shown to be effective for kids ages 5 to 11.

The immune response for that age group is comparable to the response in people ages 16 through 25. And it has been found to be 90.7% effective in preventing COVID in the younger age group.

The safety of the vaccine was tested in a group of 3,100 kids, and so far no serious side effects have been detected, the FDA reported.

“The FDA is committed to making decisions that are guided by science that the public and health care community can trust,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement about the granting of emergency use authorization. “We are confident in the safety, effectiveness and manufacturing data behind this authorization.”

Officials from the FDA said the agency will work with Pfizer and the CDC to continue monitoring the safety of the vaccine.

“We certainly recommend it,” said Dr. Patrick Gavigan, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. “In the pediatric infectious disease community, we are excited we have this vaccine available to more of our pediatric population.”

Dr. Patrick Gavigan

Gavigan said the data released by Pfizer and the FDA show that the vaccine is extremely effective for younger kids and appears to be extremely safe. That’s good news, he said, particularly given what he’s seen over the last few months.

“Kids in this age group are getting COVID,” he said. “We see kids admitted nearly daily. Even kids who were previously healthy.

“This is a group that can get sick with COVID, and we know they can transfer it to other people.”

Gavigan said pediatric COVID cases spiked in correlation with the start of the school year.

“There was that narrative that has persisted that kids aren’t affected by COVID,” he said. “We know now that’s simply not true. They are getting sick from it and, while not as frequently, they can get severe illness.”

The latest Pennsylvania Department of Health weekly statistics showed a surge in cases among children and age 18 and younger in berks and across the state after four weeks of declines.

The state began releasing data on Aug. 16 and some counties, not Berks, showed high numbers right away.

Gavigan said that while being vaccinated is not a 100% guarantee against getting COVID, it is the best tool for prevention. And when added to other layers of protection, like wearing masks and social distancing, it can help limit transmission.

That protection is much needed, Gavigan said, considering the continued prevalence of COVID in the community.

“If a kid doesn’t get the measles vaccine, they may never run into it and it will never become an issue,” he said. “If you don’t get the COVID vaccine, you’re going to get COVID.”

Overall cases are running as high as other peaks in the five-month delta variant surge. About 1 in 4 delta surge cases have been children, statistics show.

A hot ticket

When Kiersten headed out to get her first Pfizer dose, she was far from alone.

That clinic quickly filled up the 600 spots available for kids ages 5 to 11. And it wasn’t the only one to see a surge of interested families.

The Gov. Mifflin Mustang encourages kids as they get their COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic held at the intermediate school Nov. 6. (JEREMY LONG — READING EAGLE)

The White House estimates about 900,000 kids ages 5 to 11 got a shot during the first week it was available.

When the Wilson School District announced it would hold a vaccine clinic for younger kids with the help of Esterbrook Pharmacy, the 300 available slots were scooped almost immediately, district officials said.

“We were extremely pleased with the response we received as the clinic filled up about three hours after we shared it with our community,” said  Dr. Richard Faidley, Wilson superintendent. “We recognize that vaccinating children against COVID-19 is a personal family choice, but we are honored to be able to collaborate with our local medical community to provide this service.”

Other local school districts have begun hosting vaccine clinics, with officials saying it is a great option to help keep kids safe and learning in-person.

“At Exeter we are very excited to know that our 5- to 11-year-old students can be vaccinated,” said Dr. Kimberly Minor, Exeter superintendent. “Parents who choose to vaccinate their children now could have them fully vaccinated by Christmas, and that is good news for families and for schools.”

Minor said CDC guidance says that fully vaccinated individuals don’t have to quarantine when exposed to someone with COVID unless they are experiencing symptoms.

“This will mean far fewer student quarantines,” she said. “Keeping students in the classroom as much as possible is best.”

Minor said Exeter is teaming with Walmart to bring vaccines into school facilities to help ease access for students.

The Conrad Weiser School District has held one vaccine clinic with doses available for young children and will host another in December. The district has partnered with the Berks County Community Health Center.

“Our highest priority is the health, safety and welfare of our students, staff and community,” said Dr. Ryan Giffing, Weiser superintendent. “By partnering with the Berks Community Health Center to offer a weekend COVID-19 vaccination clinic at our high school, the Conrad Weiser School District is giving everyone in our community a convenient opportunity to access this level of care.”

Several other local school districts are also partnering with local vaccine providers to host clinics for students. Parents looking to sign up their child should contact their local district to see what options are available.

A layer of protection

Like Kiersten, Sia Shah had been champing at the bit for her chance to get a COVID vaccination.

A self-avowed avid reader of the Reading Eagle, the 10-year-old had been following media coverage of the approval process. She had also been doing a lot of research on the websites of the CDC the World Health Organization and The Johns Hopkins Hospital — something her parents, both physicians at Reading Hospital, were quite proud of.

Sia Shah, 10, gets her first dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine. (Courtesy of the Shah family)

“I have been reading about it,” she said. “I was patiently waiting for the FDA to approve it.”

Sia knew getting vaccinated wouldn’t mean she was completely protected from COVID, but it would make getting infected less likely. It would also lessen her chances of getting severely ill.

So when she read the Pfizer vaccine had been approved for her age group, she jumped into action.

“I asked Dr. Shah over there if I could schedule,” she said, nodding her head toward her parents. “I was super excited. I know that getting a vaccine will make me safer from COVID.”

Her parents were thrilled with her decision. After all, they’ve had an up-close view of what COVID can do.

“We have a very different perspective,” said Dr. Vinti Shah, chief of the Division of Palliative Medicine at Reading Hospital. “As physicians, we’ve seen a side of COVID that’s different than what the rest of the community gets to see.”

Like many parents, the Shahs have worried about their children’s health in the pandemic.

“There’s definitely a fear that you carry as a parent, all of the time,” Vinti said. “Especially when you see the sickest of the sickest in the hospital. That fear deepens.”

Dr. Ankit Shah, associate director of the emergency department at Reading Hospital, said he and his wife changed their behaviors during the pandemic to minimize the risk their children face.

“We changed our home life,” he said. “When we would get home from work we would take off our clothes and jump in the shower, before talking to the kids or petting the dog. And we’d keep our clothes in a separate part of the house from the kids.”

Now, the Shahs said, they can breath a slight sigh of relief.

Their 12-year-old has already been vaccinated, and Sia got her first dose more than a week ago — a process she said didn’t involve much more than a slight pinch when the needle went in and a bit of a sore arm for about a day.

“It’s been a weight lifted off our shoulders at this point, knowing that our children are partially, if not fully, vaccinated,” Vinti said. “I just feel a deep sense of gratitude to everybody who made that day happen for both of my children.”

Ankit said he hopes more families follow his family’s lead, adhering to medical advice and getting kids vaccinated.

“We hope the number snowballs and gets larger,” he said, adding that fighting misinformation about vaccines will be a hurdle. “The important thing is where you get your information from. There are a lot of echo chambers that don’t have valid answers. Trust the science, not the rhetoric.

“Reach out to a pediatrician, a pediatric immunologist. Not somebody that is posting to a blog, but someone who actually does this for a living.”

Sia, who attends school in the Wilson School District, said she hopes people look at the long-term benefits of getting vaccinated, saying it’s the path past the pandemic.

“This is one step closer to getting back to normal, knock on wood,” she said.

For her, that meant getting a chance to finally go see “Hamilton” last weekend. It means being able to fly on an airplane and have birthday parties that aren’t toned down.

Kiersten said that’s a big reason why she was so excited to get vaccinated, too. She said she’s tired of always having to wear a mask, not being able to hang out with friends and having to cancel trips.

“We can go out to eat without worrying now,” she said.

Vicki Graff said those are the kinds of things her family is looking forward to as well. That’s why she was happy her 10-year-old son, Abraham, wanted to get vaccinated.

“I just feel like it’s the way we get back the closest to normal, or a new normal,” she said. “It’s the way forward.”

Graff said she feels comfortable that the vaccine is safe an effective.

“I’m not a scientist. I don’t pretend to understand everything behind it,” she said. “But I trust the system that is in place. I trust seeing the results of those who have been vaccinated.”

Graff said her son has been doing OK throughout the pandemic and that, for the most part, she’s felt safe sending him to school in the Wyomissing School District in-person this school year. But a little extra protection doesn’t hurt.

“School has felt like a pretty safe place for him to go,” she said. “But he would like to stop having to wear a mask to feel safe around other kids and adults. And things like playing with friends has been limited. That’s hard for kids. They need that.”

Graff said her son was excited to get vaccinated but not particularly enthusiastic about the needle that was involved. Still, he summoned up his bravery and got it done last weekend.

“He saw all of his adult family members, and he had been waiting for his turn,” Graff said. “He wasn’t excited to get the shot, but he was excited for the big picture.”



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