Local Providers Begin Administering COVID-19 Vaccines to Kids

Younger kids excited to be like their older siblings. A path to eventually doing away with masks in schools, hugging grandparents without fear and otherwise returning to normal, albeit a new normal.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that children as young as 5 be eligible to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Jenni Kusma of Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital said it has been a good week to be a pediatrician.

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“We’ve had 18 months of kind of figuring out how to live with this new virus, and I just think that this is really going to help get us to that next step,” she said. “The shot is safe. It’s been really well studied. It’s been reviewed by a lot of people. I have confidence in the safety of this vaccine.”

According to the state public health department, as of midday Monday, approximately 15,150 pediatric doses have so far been administered to Illinois children in the 5-11 age group.

Lurie’s clinic opened to youth on Friday, and over the weekend administered 1,172 doses to the newly eligible group.

Studies on pediatric vaccinations took place during the summer when the delta variant surged, and the vaccine was still effective, Kusma said.

Younger kids get a smaller dose than vaccines approved for people 12 and up.

“What’s interesting and exciting is that that dose is smaller, but the immune response or that antibody response is actually very much similar to the adolescents or adults who got the largest dose of the vaccine. So smaller dose, but we’re seeing that same, great immune response,” she said.

UI Health began giving children the shot Monday.

Medical Director of UI Health’s Child and Youth Center Dr. Jalene Shoener says her own child is getting the shot, and she strongly encourages others to as well. 

“It’s hard to know which children will be severely affected and we do see children who need a lot of support from the breathing and the heart, kind of complications that go with COVID. Many people of all ages do well having had the infection, but it’s just so hard for us to know who will and who will not. And we are seeing some children with the infection in our hospital as we speak,” Shoener said.

Some parents aren't ready. 

Willie Preston is the father of six children, ranging in age from 5 to 16, and said he takes the coronavirus seriously.

They all wear masks, his family doesn’t attend big events, and they’ve put up signs to remind the kids to frequently wash their hands. Still, he’s uneasy about them getting vaccinated.

“My wife and I are not currently at a place where we feel comfortable giving our children the vaccination. Certainly not our 5-year-old,” he said. “It seems like it’s rushed. We don’t know enough about it.”

Parents like Preston are who Chicago Public Schools administrators may have had in mind when late last week the district announced they were canceling classes on Friday for a “vaccine awareness” day.

The district billed it was an opportunity for the most recently eligible to receive the vaccine as quickly as possible and ahead of the holidays.

But for Preston it's frustrating.

“I think that in a situation like this CPS should have allowed parents who were willing to go and take their kids to get vaccinated to have the day to do without penalty to the children, of course. And for those of us who are currently opting not to get our kids vaccinated, we shouldn’t be penalized, and the kids should be able to go to the school that we’re paying taxes to send them to,” Preston said.

He said it’s obvious to him that CPS’s leadership, including the new CEO Pedro Martinez, did not consult with working families like his, or Preston said he guarantees that CPS would not have put families in the situation his is in now.

“Child care is an essential need for parents who are working-class parents like my wife and myself,” Preston said. “Very short notice of kids having an out-of-school day that we had no knowledge of 100% has created a child care issue for my house and for my wife and I. So at this point we’re probably going to stick to names in the bag, shake it up and pull who’s going that day.”

Working parents who want to use the day to get their child vaccinated may not be able to do so, given that a parent or guardian has to be present when minors get the COVID-19 jab.

Friday’s vaccine awareness sudden day of no school comes the day after children will also be out of school on Thursday, for Veteran’s Day, a long-planned official school and federal holiday, leading critics to suspect that the true motivation for CPS was a lack of enough substitute teachers.

CPS on Monday afternoon did not respond to that assertion.

Founder and CEO of the professional child care and sitter service Babe Maven, Brittany Gabby, said she began getting frantic calls from parents last Thursday once CPS’s email went out and news reports aired about this week’s added day-off school.

Her company teamed up with Logan Square’s Third Coast Birth & Baby to host small group sitting sessions, with spots for 16 children on Thursday and Friday. Spots are filling up but she said some are still available; parents should reach out via email.

“It’s as simple as us getting your child’s contact information. We wear masks, all of our sitter mavens are wearing masks. Lunch and a snack are provided, so we’re going to try to lean in to filling the gap for that support for those two days,” Gabby said.

Friday’s child care issue may be more sudden than usual, but it’s an indicator of a larger issue of families having a difficult time juggling child care with pandemic dips and turns, including going back to work and students rotating in and out of classrooms due to having to quarantine.

“What I’m finding is parents are eager to get care confirmed as soon as possible, and they are looking to have someone who is also committed for the long haul. I see a huge desire for parents to have someone who is willing to be just all-in and committed for at least two years … because it’s been a roller coaster these last two years,” she said. “And then you have some who are saying ‘I don’t even have the ability financially to cover the child care time that I need. And then you have an availability, in terms of accessibility, to people who live in neighborhoods or places where maybe there’s not quality child care, or child care at all.”

Babe Maven meets requests by sitters, or mavens, who only want to care for families who have been vaccinated, and families who want to guarantee their sitter has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Along with the high demand for help with child care, Gabby said she has noticed an increase in caregivers understanding their value.

“You have a mix of people, parents’ preferences, maybe wanting someone that’s vaccinated. And then you have caregivers who say, ‘Hey, I don’t feel comfortable right now to be vaccinated.’ And then you also have caregivers who say, ‘Hey, I only want to work with families who are vaccinated,’” Gabby said. “And that is now the caveat, that now our caregivers are having and speaking and using their voice, and not just allowing the industry to… it’s kind of becoming a level playing field in terms of the demands and the need and really aligning it. When it aligns it’s beautiful. The struggle is getting it there.”

Chicago’s libraries and parks will be open Thursday and Friday when schools are closed, and according to CPS, libraries will have “computer access, grab-n-go kits, information about the vaccines and promote library cards.”

Not all pediatric providers may be ready by Friday to give the vaccine. Additional training is required, and according to the Illinois Department of Public Health, providers that requested fewer than 300 doses are still awaiting processing by the CDC.

But Chicago providers that have opened vaccinations to 5- to 11-year-olds, including UI Health and Lurie Children’s, are expanding availability on Friday to take advantage of the school-free day.

Families and children do not need to be patients at Lurie or UIHealth to get vaccinated at the hospitals’ clinics, but appointments should be first be made online.

On Friday, there will be extended slots, and Lurie’s is offering expanded hours, opening at 9 a.m. rather than the regular afternoon start time.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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