COVID vaccines for kids mean busy pediatricians

COVID vaccines for kids mean busy pediatricians

By Anne Blythe

The phones have been ringing more than usual at Chapel Hill Pediatrics and Adolescents as parents eager to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 call for appointments.

This past Thursday, the office had nearly 100 appointments scheduled. A boy and a girl who came in that day got extra-special attention after rolling up their sleeves for the first jab in a two-dosed series of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine approved last week for children aged 5 to 11.

Gov. Roy Cooper and Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, were touring the practice and stepped in to congratulate the children.

“This COVID pandemic has been tough on families, and it’s particularly been tough on children,” Cooper told reporters after visiting with some newly vaccinated children who were not expecting a meeting with the governor at their appointments. “I’m so glad that we’ve been able to get our children back in the classroom in person and that we’ve been able to make sure we’ve invested to keep them safe.

“But I know that so many parents, when they’re getting vaccines, when they’re doing things to protect themselves, have remained so worried about their children in this age group who’ve not been able to get a vaccination,” he said. “That worry is just always there.”

Nearly a week has passed since Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued an endorsement that public health care workers say is a potential game-changer for the pandemic.

After favorable reviews from the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Walensky endorsed the kid-sized dose of the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 5 on Nov. 2.

“This week is so important because now these children, 5 through 11, can get vaccinated, and it can give parents peace of mind,” Cooper said at Chapel Hill Pediatrics and Adolescents. “Just to see the two children that we saw get vaccinated, and their parents were just there, it’s relief in their eyes because we know this is an important layer of protection for our children.”

Answering parents’ questions

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in September found that nearly a third of parents polled would get their child vaccinated as soon as possible. Another third of the parents preferred to take a wait-and-see posture. Twenty-four percent of the parents in that poll said they definitely would not get their child vaccinated.

Mary Braithwaite, a pediatrician at Chapel Hill Pediatrics and Adolescents, said the Chapel Hill office has vaccine appointments booked for at least the next three weeks. She knows some parents will have questions. She says she hopes parents will turn to pediatricians, nurses and others in health care professions instead of focusing on misinformation — online and otherwise — that has been so prevalent throughout the pandemic.

“Vaccinating children against Covid-19 gets us another step closer to the end of this pandemic,” Braithwaite said.   

In North Carolina, the vaccines for the younger children have been distributed to at least 800 sites such as pediatrician offices, pharmacies and other health care sites, Cohen said last week. There is plenty of supply, Cohen added, while stressing what the clinical trials and data submitted to the FDA and CDC show.

“As folks know, I’m a mom of a 7- and 9-year-old. I have two daughters, and we have appointments for Saturday morning to get our vaccines. I could not be more excited,” Cohen said this past Thursday. “I want to make sure I’m doing everything as a parent, and a doctor, to be protecting my own kids. 

“That’s why we want to make sure that everyone knows that we’ve looked at this data, that the data shows that these vaccines are safe, and we want to make sure like we do for all these vaccines for our kids that we are doing things to protect our kids at each and every turn.”

The surge in COVID cases brought on by the Delta variant in late summer hit children particularly hard.

“In the last wave of this Delta surge, we’ve seen almost a 200 percent increase in the number of cases we’re seeing in kids 5 through 11,” Cohen said. “Sadly some of those kids have ended up in the hospital, they’ve had what they call long COVID, where they’ve had inflammatory disease. So kids are vulnerable here and we just want to make sure we’re doing everything here both as doctors and parents to protect our kids.

“I wouldn’t recommend something that I wouldn’t do for my own kids,” Cohen added. “I love them super dearly, as all parents do, so I’m recommending what I would do for my kids and that’s get them vaccinated as soon as possible.”

More than 45 percent of children between the ages of 12 to 17 in North Carolina have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They received a larger dose than what the FDA and CDC recommend for children younger than 12. By Monday, according to the DHHS vaccine dashboard, one percent of the children ages 5 to 11 had received a vaccine.

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