‘Ticket out of the pandemic’: Local pediatricians prepare to vaccinate children ages 5-11

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Preparations are underway to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 in New York State. Approval to vaccinate young children could come within a matter of weeks, leading Governor Kathy Hochul to tell hospitals this week they should start getting ready.

Currently, the FDA is reviewing Pfizer’s data of the vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds. Once given full approval, these vaccines could be available to children in early November. 

Parents like Adam Weis know how important the vaccine could be for children.

“Unfortunately, just weeks ahead of its approval, it was too late for my kids because my daughter came down with COVID,” said Weis, who is a doctor at Rochester Regional Health’s Wolcott Pediatrics.

All four of Weiss’ kids are now quarantined, missing school and time with friends.

“I can tell you, I’m much more worried about the long term effects that having COVID is going to have on my children than I am about the vaccine,” Weis said.

Local pediatricians say they are preparing because there are a lot of kids in the Finger Lakes region. 

“There’s roughly 1.5 million children ages five to under 12 in New York State. There’s roughly over 95,000 in the Finger Lakes region, so that’s a lot of people,” said Dr. Stephen Cook, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Golisano Children’s Hospital.

This will be the youngest age group of our population to get the COVID-19 vaccine so far and Cook said the data has shown the vaccines are safe for children. 

“We literally have not had a vaccine or a drug that has been as extensively monitored and followed so intensely in such a short period of time, so to say there’s no data is not really a true statement. There is a tremendous amount of data,” Cook said. ““We vaccinate children for lots of diseases, not only because it protects them, but also helps cut down on spread and transmission that protects other people.” 

The vaccine for the 5 to 11-year-olds is different than previous ones because it’s one-third of the size given to teens and adults. 

“It’s a little bit smaller dose, and it’s drawn up a little bit differently. We’ll be able to get 10 doses out of a single vial, compared to six with the current 12 and up approved one,” said Dr. Steven Schulz, a Pediatrician and the Pediatric Medical Director for Rochester Regional Health.

Because these vials are different, doctors say the process of getting them is a little different. 

“It appears that Pfizer is also shipping the vaccine for children for this age group in different vials and different sizes, which actually should be easier to get out to pediatricians offices. But the dilution is a little bit different. So if pediatricians already have the adult vaccine in their office, they’re not going to be able to use that or just dilute it differently, or concentrate it differently, they’re going to have to wait for the pediatric doses to come,” Cook explained. 

“The question is, how are we going to do this next wave because the shipping and manufacturing is going to be different? So that will be a new thing that we’re going to have to learn.”

Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza said the county is beginning to look at shifting efforts to providing these shots at smaller sites.

“5 and 6 year-old individuals are not likely to feel as comfortable in a mass, or large vaccination site. We know that our pediatrician community wants to have the chance to see all of these individuals not only for their COVID shot but also for their routine care and making sure that their other immunizations are up to date,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Our focus is really going to be shifting away from these larger center sites to the family doctor and pediatrician offices for those individuals who have a primary care home.”

However, Dr. Mendoza said there will still be the option for getting these vaccines at larger mass vaccination sites for those who don’t have a primary care doctor.

In the meantime, pediatricians say parents can start having conversations with their children who are going to get vaccinated. 

Schulz recommends leading by example. 

“Giving a positive outlook on it and letting them know that these are all the benefits that are going to happen because you’re going to be able to get these shots… that we’re going to be able to do these activities, we’re going to be able to be more free in traveling,” Schulz said. “You’re going to be keeping yourself safe, you’re going to be keeping the rest of the family healthy, you’re going to keep your friends healthy by getting this vaccine and really framing it in a positive outlook.”

It’s also important to be honest with kids, said Weis.

“I always do tell my kids, ‘Yeah, it is going to be a pinch for a second. It’s gonna hurt for a second but it’s quick and then it’s done. It’s gonna help keep you healthy,'” he said. “What I say to my patients and what I say to my own kids, is, ‘it’s okay to be scared, being scared is just the first step to being brave.”

Many families have been waiting months to have their young ones vaccinated, especially with the highly contagious delta variant spreading among kids. Doctors say it’s a good idea for kids to get the shot so they can return to more normalcy. 

“This is kids ticket to getting back to a more normal life, right? This is what’s gonna allow families to be able to take trips and travel together again, it’s what’s going to allow you to be involved in sports and activities, and go to parties and all those kinds of things in a safe way,” Schulz said. “It’s our ticket out of the pandemic.”

Weis said even if you have a breakthrough case, these vaccines will protect people.

“We don’t get as sick, they don’t get hospitalized as much, and we don’t have people dying as much. So it is really important to be getting these these immunizations, they are safe, and they are effective,” Weis said.

Schulz says he believes they are going to see a surge in families and children wanting the vaccine once it’s approved. He reminds families that there are some staffing shortages at hospitals and ask them to be patient as they sign up for the shot. 

This week, Gov. Hochul asked the White House to make sure administering this vaccine get smaller batches of doses at a time so doctor’s offices are overwhelmed. 

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