With U.S. health officials on Tuesday signing off on the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, Fresno County health officials are kicking vaccination efforts with pediatricians and other community partners into high gear.
“The fact that many, many thousands of kids will be at least partially vaccinated by Thanksgiving and fully vaccinated by Christmas, is really a dream come true for so many thousands of families all across the Central Valley. It’s hard not to feel the excitement.” — Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County interim health officer
Fresno County interim health officer Dr. Rais Vohra said on Friday ahead of the approval that he hopes parents will see the kid’s-sized doses for young children as a positive rather than a negative.
“Speaking both as the health officer and as a parent … this is really going to change a lot of people’s situations,” said Vohra. “The fact that many, many thousands of kids will be at least partially vaccinated by Thanksgiving and fully vaccinated by Christmas, is really a dream come true for so many thousands of families all across the Central Valley. It’s hard not to feel the excitement.”
Having a trusted group of messengers and partnerships across the community drives vaccine acceptance, said Vohra, who acknowledged there are people and families who need more coaxing.
“They’re going to need to hear from the trusted messengers, which is again, why we cultivate these partnerships with our (community partners), because we know that they really get to people and help us reach populations and answer questions in a deep way that, unfortunately, we’re not able to do,” said Vohra.
Two Shots, Three Weeks Apart
The 5- to 11-year-olds will receive two shots, three weeks apart, the same schedule as everyone else — but using a smaller needle. The vaccine does is about one-third of that given to a teen or an adult.
In the U.S., there have been more than 8,300 hospitalizations of kids ages 5 to 11, about a third requiring intensive care, according to government data. The CDC has recorded at least 94 deaths in that age group, with additional reports under investigation.
Pfizer’s study of 2,268 youngsters found the kid-size vaccine is nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 — based on 16 diagnoses among kids given dummy shots compared to just three who got the real vaccination.
The FDA examined more children, a total of 3,100 who were vaccinated, in concluding the shots are safe. The younger children experienced similar or fewer reactions — such as sore arms, fever, or achiness — than teens or young adults get after larger doses.
Fresno County Has 15 Pediatricians Signed Up
The county’s health department manager, Joe Prado, says they have reached out to as many providers in the area that would be ready to administer vaccines to children 5-11 as early as this week.
“We have 15 pediatricians already signed up for COVID vaccines,” said Prado.
However, for parents who might be eager to sign up their kids and want to use the MyTurn portal, Prado says the portal could take a few days to be updated.
While the vaccines will be predominantly administered by pediatric providers as recommended by the CDC, children’s hospitals, pharmacies, temporary community clinics, and school clinics will help in the vaccine roll-out for this younger demographic.
“There is a heavy push right now to have vaccine clinics on school sites and so we’re going to see how many of our school districts are able to support those efforts, both from the state resources and county resources,” said Prado.
Approval for Youngsters Will Increase County’s Vaccination Rates
As of today, 52.2% of Fresno County residents are fully vaccinated. The statewide rate is 64.4%. Prado said approval for the 5-11 age group would help increase the state’s vaccination by 9%.
“I think there’s hope for Fresno County that we will be able to get a high vaccination rate,” said Prado. “I think with the governor’s mandate for school vaccines and that coming into effect once it’s fully approved, there’s a good recipe there for us to get a high amount of 5-11 vaccinated.”
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)