Younger arms offered up: O.C. children start receiving COVID-19 vaccine shots

Lyndi, 5, looks away while Amanda Maxwell, the clinical nurse manager, administers a shot of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Lyndi, 5, looks away while Amanda Maxwell, left, the clinical nurse manager, administers a shot of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and her father, Marc, right, stands by for support at Coastal Kids, a pediatric practice, on Thursday in Newport Beach. The FDA gave its approval for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered to children between the ages of 5-11.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Following the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday that the COVID-19 vaccine be administered to children between the ages of 5 and 11, local healthcare providers have begun putting shots in young arms.

Elementary school-aged children were among the first to return to classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic. But the delta variant that emerged in the summer proved to be particularly virulent for children.

“We expect the vaccine to be available at our mobile clinics within the next few days and through other regular vaccine distribution channels, as well,” Orange County Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said in a statement on Wednesday. “We ask for our community’s patience as we and other providers prepare to make the vaccine available to the newly eligible age group.

“We also remain committed to delivering vaccines to the most vulnerable population and hard-to-reach communities in Orange County and continue to work closely with our local healthcare providers to host future vaccine clinics and connecting schools who are interested in setting up their own clinics with the [California Department of Public Health].”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in children between the ages of 5 and 11 last week.

Lyndi, 5, poses with her vaccination card for her mother, Marni, right, after receiving her first COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Lyndi, 5, poses with her vaccination card for her mother, Marni, right, after receiving her first shot of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday at Coastal Kids, a pediatric practice, in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“As a mother and a physician, I know that parents, caregivers, school staff, and children have been waiting for today’s authorization,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., said in a statement on Oct. 29. “Vaccinating younger children against COVID-19 will bring us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy. Our comprehensive and rigorous evaluation of the data pertaining to the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness should help assure parents and guardians that this vaccine meets our high standards.”

The number of Orange County residents who were fully vaccinated against the virus, regardless of the vaccine taken, stood at 2,190,754 as of Monday, according to data provided by the California Immunization Registry.

After the vaccine arrived this week in kid-sized doses, Coastal Kids began rolling out the vaccine for young children on Thursday afternoon.

“Looking at [ages] 12 and above, we’ve administrated thousands of vaccines,” Dr. Steven Abelowitz, the medical director of Coastal Kids, said. “The 5 to 11 [age group], that’s just been approved and just being delivered, and we put expeditious workflows in place, and we’re actually starting today.”

For parents Marc and Marni, who asked that their last names not be used out of privacy concerns, the decision to have their 5-year-old daughter Lyndi receive the vaccine at the Coastal Kids clinic on Thursday was a “no-brainer” because it provided an extra layer of safety and comfort.

While Lyndi did attend preschool in person last year, it was difficult at the beginning of the pandemic for her family to be separated from her grandparents.

Amanda Maxwell, left, the clinical nurse manager, speaks to parents Marni and Marc, at a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.
Amanda Maxwell, left, the clinical nurse manager, speaks to parents, Marni, far right, and Marc, before administering a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot to Lyndi, 5, on Thursday at Coastal Kids, a pediatric practice, in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“For us, I think that was a lot of it was we have elderly parents that we want her to be around and feel safe and comfortable for not only her, but for them, as well,” Marc said. “At school, she’s around an environment that we don’t get to control, based on the other families that bring children to school. So for us, we just felt that it was beneficial for her to be vaccinated.

“We’re vaccinated, so it takes a little stress off knowing that she’s probably in a better position today than she would be without being vaccinated.”

Experts harbored great concern about a surge in COVID-19 cases last winter. With much of the population choosing to get vaccinated, Abelowitz warned that more commonly seen ailments such as colds and the flu remain a factor.

“With all the mitigating effects last year, we saw a very slow cold season, a very slow flu season,” Abelowitz added. “We’re seeing right now [a] tremendous amount, with kids … going back to school and in activities, appropriately so. We’re seeing significantly higher numbers of these viral infections and some complications than we did last year and the year before.”

The vaccine performed at a rate of 90.7% effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 infections for children within the newly eligible age range during clinical trials, according to the FDA.

The primary vaccine series will be completed in two parts, with the shots to be scheduled three weeks apart.

Dr. Chulie Ulloa, an assistant professor in pediatrics at the UC Irvine School of Medicine, said Thursday that she recognizes the concern from parents over the potential side effects of the vaccine.

“I think this is a technology that’s perceived by the community as fairly new but has actually been around for a while,” Ulloa said. “This is just the first time we’ve used it in the form of a vaccine. I think a lot of concerns are also on what the long-term side effects are on menstruation and fertility.

“Side effects from any FDA-approved vaccine developed up to now prior to COVID-19 has not caused long-term side effects. On average, any side effects we have seen with vaccines appear within the first six weeks. Anything beyond that point is unheard of ... and I have no reason to believe that this vaccine would be any different.”

The same vaccines being given to adults are being given to children, but the shots in younger arms come with smaller dosages.

“The younger cohort of children, ages 5 to 11, will receive one-third the dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved for older age groups,” Ulloa added. “I encourage parents to speak with their child’s pediatrician. Make sure you are getting the right information.”

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