Covid vaccines are slowly being rolled out for children under the age of 5

Health workers across the United States on Tuesday began giving Covid-19 vaccines to children ages 6 months to 5 years, another milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, which began 18 long months after adults were first given injections for the virus. came.

But parental response has been remarkably muted, with little reference to the excitement and long lines that have greeted previous vaccine launches.

An April survey showed that less than a fifth of parents of children under the age of 5 were desperate for immediate access to the vaccine. Early adopters in this age group seemed to be outliers.

At 9:00 a.m., Dayton Children’s Hospital in Ohio was one of the first sites where the youngest children were vaccinated with the three-dose Pfizer BioNTech vaccine intended for this age group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also advocated a second option for young children, a two-dose regimen of Moderna.

Brian Wentzel, 38, delivered his 2-year-old son Bodhi at 9:15am. The boy clutched a stuffed dog and bravely took the syringe in his leg. His mother is a doctor at the hospital.

“It was important to get him vaccinated,” Mr. Wentzel said. “It is extremely effective in preventing serious diseases.”

At a White House press briefing Tuesday afternoon, President Biden called the expanded vaccines “a monumental step forward.”

“The United States,” he continued, “is now the first country in the world to offer safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to children as young as 6 months.”

He encouraged all Americans to get vaccinated and said parents should speak to a family doctor if they have any questions. In addition to doctor’s offices, hospitals and clinics, pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart would soon be offering vaccines for the youngest children, Mr Biden said.

The president also addressed, albeit indirectly, a controversy in Florida where the state declined to preorder vaccine doses for young children. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with presidential aspirations, said last week, “We are strongly opposed to the Covid vaccine for young children.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden said that “elected officials shouldn’t get in the way and make it harder for parents.”

Florida has since allowed health care providers to order the shots, but in many places — including Florida and New York — the vaccines didn’t appear to be widely available yet. Some pediatric practices reported that they had not yet received the vaccinations or that they planned to give the vaccine mainly at regularly scheduled well visits.

But the screaming of the families is limited. There are many reasons for delaying parental vaccination. Two years into the pandemic, many families have come to terms with living with the virus, and the majority of American children are already infected, with most showing mild symptoms.

While vaccines remain highly effective at protecting against serious illness and death, they have become less effective at preventing infection as the virus has mutated, leading to public disappointment and some cynicism about the injections. Some parents have encountered widespread misinformation about risks, while others are concerned about rare side effects or simply don’t want their children to be among the first to receive a newly accessible vaccine.

This is the case even as parents and young children have endured some of the longest-running public health and education restrictions due to their lack of access to a vaccine. And that’s especially true in liberal-minded states and cities that have been more cautious about the virus.

Many daycares and preschools still require masking and quarantine periods for children who come in close contact with the virus, although K-12 schools have generally lifted those precautions. Parents are exhausted after years of disrupted routine and report that their young children have never experienced school or socialization under normal conditions.

Joseph G. Allen, an indoor quality expert at Harvard University who has researched the coronavirus and schools, said he believes it’s time to lift most restrictions on young children. Even if uptake of the latest pediatric vaccine is limited, young children are “the least at risk and have had the highest exposure as adults run around doing what they want.”

The best way for daycares and schools to protect students and staff over the next year when new variants might emerge is to invest in air quality improvements like HVAC system upgrades and portable air purifiers with HEPA filters, Professor Allen said.

So far, the childhood vaccination campaign has disappointed many public health experts. Less than 30 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds have had two shots, and coverage can be even lower for younger children. Given the great reluctance of parents, only California and Washington, DC, have announced intentions to make a Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for school attendance, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

At a splash pad in West St. Paul, Minnesota, Jen Wilkerson, 28, a barista, said she has no plans to vaccinate her son Jaxson, 4, although she has been vaccinated.

She said she was worried after he developed lumps in his leg after two vaccines for other diseases, and recalled Jaxson hadn’t fallen ill when she contracted Covid-19 last year.

“He’s a little window licker,” she said. “Given the strength of his immune system, I see no need for him to get vaccinated now. I’m waiting for him to get older. I’ll wait until he’s 10 or so.”

In Durant, Miss., Monique Moore, 39, a teacher, said she would wait several months until her son Rashun turns 5 before having him vaccinated.

“I didn’t want him to be in the first group,” she said, “but I didn’t want to not either.”

Doctors and immunization experts say parents of 4-year-olds shouldn’t delay getting vaccinated.

Other parents said that the vaccination would allow them to put a difficult time in their lives behind them.

In Brookline, Mass., Jenn Erickson, 40, quit her job when her son Miro was born early in the pandemic. She has “no hesitation” in getting him vaccinated, she said, because it would allow her to confidently enroll her son in daycare while she returns to work.

“It feels like much of the world moved on without us,” Ms. Erickson said. “The children born during the pandemic are finally getting some protection. There must be a big celebration for the parents who have endured this massive stress.”

And for some families, the new vaccine will be life-changing.

Whitney Stohr, 35, of Lynnwood, Wash., planned to have her 4-year-old son Malachi Stohr-Hendrickson vaccinated Tuesday at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Malachi has spina bifida, hydrocephalus and congenital heart defects that put him at high risk for complications from Covid-19. The family has been living in isolation for more than two years.

The shot means Malachi will begin personal occupational and physical therapy and preschool. And since he needs help around the clock, he will go back to Mrs. Stohr’s mother’s short-term care.

“It’s just going to be a huge sense of relief,” Ms. Stohr said. “It will just remove a deep-seated fear that the virus will catch him before we have a chance to stop and prevent it.”

Reporting was contributed by Kevin Williams, Christina Capecchi, Ellen B Meacham, Catherine McGloin, Alanis Thames, Adam Bednar and Hello Golden.

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