COVID-19 vaccine relief finally arrives for newest parents

For many Bay Area’s parents, the anxious wait for COVID-19 vaccines for their young tots has finally ended.

After federal health authorities last week gave the OK for children as young as 6 months to get the vaccine, hundreds of parents corralled their toddlers Tuesday in the intense summer heat and brought them to the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds vaccination clinic, hoping their kids could be some of the first in the state to get the shots.

George Israel and his 4-year-old son Vance from Los Gatos were among the first in line. They’d been waiting weeks for the shots to be approved, and when the county scheduling portal opened Monday, he made sure to refresh his page to get the first available slot.

“I think he was a bit jealous — both of his older siblings already got the vaccine months earlier,” Israel said of Vance. “We’re very fortunate that we live in a county where we have access to this right now, and we can’t take that for granted.”

A sharp poke, a quick yelp and a bear hug later, Vance was on his way to being vaccinated and turning his attention to his upcoming summer soccer season. He sat calmly during the observation period fingering the day-glow yellow bandage over the jab site and clutching a jungle-themed scavenger hunt card handed out at the clinic.

The county had ordered enough Pfizer and Moderna doses for the estimated 100,000 kids ages 6 months through 4 years old who live in the county. Health officials scheduled 500 vaccinations Tuesday and planned to ramp up to 1,000 a day by the end of the week, said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, director of healthcare preparedness for Santa Clara County’s Emergency Operations Center. The shots are being offered by the county at five different locations.

“Just looking around seeing the kids getting vaccinated safely, that’s a success,” Kamal said.

The vaccines for the youngest kids come as the latest wave of COVID-19 infections, driven by newer versions of the omicron variant that powered last winter’s case surge, appears to be cresting in California and the Bay Area. The Bay Area 7-day average infection rate continues to be higher, at 40.9 per 100,000 people, than the statewide rate of 33.01 as of June 15. But the Bay Area rate has come down from a June 6 peak of 54.32.

Statewide daily COVID-19 hospitalizations appear to be leveling off at around 3,200, as well as weekly deaths at around 200.

The child-appropriate vaccines have been in the works for months. Approval of Pfizer’s vaccine was initially delayed after the company in December reported that an initial two-dose series did not produce significant results among the 3-4-year-olds in the trial group. Pfizer’s authorized shots are given in three doses, with a second three weeks after the first and a third shot eight weeks after the second.

Moderna’s vaccine is given in two doses a month apart. Both vaccines are at lower dosages than those for adults.

Stefanie Deo of Redwood City scoured crowdsourced Google spreadsheets and Facebook help groups for tips on how to land an appointment for her 3-year-old son Karan to get Moderna’s vaccine — which she felt would provide better protection in time for school in the fall. She found one late Monday, and drove 50 miles to a clinic in Walnut Creek that same day.

“It was an immense relief for him to finally have some protection!” Deo said Tuesday, after her son got his shot at Walnut Creek Pediatric Wellness, in a comfortable outdoor setting.

“I’m shocked he didn’t cry!” she posted in a thank-you to the group. “He got a lollipop to take home.”

Some medical experts like Johns Hopkins University professor Dr. Marty Makary have questioned the need to inoculate the youngest children, noting kids have faced the lowest risk from COVID-19, which mostly afflicts the elderly. He noted a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found three out of four kids have likely already been infected, which would indicate most have some immunity to COVID-19 without the shots.

But CDC and Food and Drug Administration experts noted in evaluating the vaccines that children were sickened and hospitalized more by the omicron variant and said the virus is a greater risk to them than the shots.

Parents in many areas have fewer options this time than they did when vaccines were made available last fall for school-aged children. For example, health departments in Alameda and San Mateo counties this week have been encouraging families to seek vaccines through their pediatricians rather than county-run mass vaccination clinics.

And many pharmacies are unable to vaccinate children under age 3 due to immunization training requirements, company policies and laws in many states. Walgreens and Rite Aid are offering vaccines to children 3 years and older, while CVS is giving shots at stores with MinuteClinics to kids as young as 18 months.

Kaiser Permanente expects to begin receiving vaccine shipments over the next week, and said Monday that members should check for availability of appointments in their area.

Sutter Health said Monday that appointments can be scheduled by phone at 1-844-987-6115 from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and appointments will also be available soon through its My Health Online patient portal. Officials said to check the vaccine resources page online for updates.

But parents said the effort was worthwhile. Sarah Anderson Jackson of San Jose spent more than five hours Monday searching for appointments for her daughters to get Moderna’s shots. She ended up getting her 4-year-old vaccinated at Sun pharmacy Monday and her 2-year-old at Santa Clara County’s San Martin clinic Tuesday.

She canceled appointments with other providers who offered only Pfizer shots so her oldest could get Moderna, hoping she will be fully protected when she starts pre-kindergarten in August. They’ve put off fun things like trips to Disneyland for too long, she said.

“We’ve lived extremely cautiously and not taken our kids many places besides the park in the last two-plus years,” Jackson said. “Once they are fully vaccinated, we can cautiously proceed towards living more normally.”

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