California kids under 5 begin getting COVID vaccines

Jonah Stein left the vaccination clinic in his father’s arms on Tuesday afternoon, proudly showing off his patch.

This “little booboo,” as the 2-year-old put it, was a long time coming. It marked the spot where he received his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine – much to the relief of his parents, who also have a 3-week-old child at home.

“We’ll be more comfortable getting out there, doing things and knowing when [Jonah is] in daycare, he’s less likely to get it and take it home to his brother,” said father Nathan Stein, who works as a cardiologist, outside the Clinica Medica Fatima in downtown Los Angeles.

Children play on a bridge at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Callum Diaz-Cheng, 3, left, and Aevin Lee, 2, play at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles while staying with their parents, Dr. Jennifer Su and Dr. Andrew Cheng, waiting for vaccinations. This was the first round of the hospital’s Pfizer vaccine approved for children under the age of 5.

(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

However, Jonah focused on more immediate concerns; namely the biscuits waiting for him in the car.

Following federal health officials’ recent decision to allow children as young as 6 months old to receive either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Californians can book appointments for their smallest fees.

The move marks the latest major expansion of the United States’ COVID-19 immunization campaign, launched in a highly limited form in December 2020. Since then, officials have granted virtually all Americans access to the vaccines, the vast majority of whom have received them.

But until now, shots for the youngest have remained elusive – allowing many families to vaccinate everyone but the baby.

Erin Acain noted that her 6-year-old daughter was vaccinated eight months ago, but her 1-year-old son wasn’t able to get it until Tuesday.

“I’m very relieved,” Acain said, balancing her son on her hip. “We’ve been waiting for this for a really long time.”

A nurse gives a young girl an injection

Sofia Espinoza Tam is raised by her father, Los Angeles Children’s Hospital pediatrician, Dr. Juan Espinoza, detained while nurse Monica Lopez administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

According to state health officials, approximately 2.2 million Californians under the age of 5 are currently eligible for a vaccine.

dr Mark Ghaly, California Secretary of Health and Human Services, called the expansion “an exciting time in our fight against COVID-19.”

“That means essentially the whole family can be vaccinated,” he said in a video statement. “This means protection from the short- and long-term consequences of COVID; that means an opportunity to take that summer vacation, to send your child to summer camp, to send them to a birthday party, to get ready for school – things I know a lot of us have done with a bit in the past few years have done trepidation . [It] means our young people can thrive in the activities we know are life-changing.”

Aevin Lee, 2, sat on his mother’s lap and played with a bumblebee toy while receiving his first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine dose outside of Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.

Then his mother – the pediatric cardiologist Dr. Jennifer Su – two new toy cars before glancing up at the various news cameras documenting the occasion.

“He didn’t even notice,” Su said, her smile visible even through her mask.

As if to get the point across, Aevin ran off to explore a nearby playground.

“It’s important to stand up for what we really think is right,” Su said of the vaccines. “We cannot expect people to follow our recommendations unless we are willing to do it ourselves. I am more than willing to show others that I would recommend this to anyone.”

A doctor holds a masked child in her arms.

The cardiologist Dr. Los Angeles Children’s Hospital’s Jennifer Su checks in son Aevin Lee, 2, before he receives his first COVID vaccine on Tuesday.

(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was already available for people as young as 5, but Moderna was only available for adults up to that point.

The Moderna offering is administered as a two-dose regimen for the youngest children, with injections given a month apart. Each shot is one-fourth the amount of the typical adult dose.

Three Pfizer shots, each at 10% of the adult dose, are required — with the first two given three weeks apart and the third at least eight weeks afterward.

dr Pia Pannaraj, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said Tuesday was exciting for her team and the community.

“It’s a big event for families with young children who have been waiting all this time,” said Pannaraj. “We finally have a way to protect them, too.”

Pannaraj said the vaccines are safe and effective, but minor side effects such as pain or redness at the injection site or a low-grade fever may occur in children, but these symptoms should resolve within 24 hours.

While some parents eagerly await the opportunity to have their children vaccinated, it remains to be seen how strong the demand will be.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released in May, 18% of parents of children under the age of 5 said they would vaccinate their child “immediately”, while 38% said they would “wait and see”. However, 27% of survey respondents said they would ‘no way’ vaccinate their toddler and 11% said they would ‘only do so if needed’.

According to the report, “A lack of available information can be a factor in parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their youngest children immediately. A majority of parents of children under the age of 5 say they do not have enough information about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines for children in this age group.”

The vaccination campaign for another cohort of children – those aged 5 to 11 – is lagging behind other groups. Just over a third of Californians in this age group are fully vaccinated, compared to 67% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 78% of 18- to 49-year-olds, according to data compiled by The Times.

A little girl cries while being held by her mother.

Lennon Roggenbuck, 3, is comforted by mum Althea Grace after her vaccination.

(Wesley Lapointe/Los Angeles Times)

While health officials acknowledge that COVID-19 has generally not hit young people as hard as other age groups, they emphasize that children are not immune to serious health effects and that vaccines offer valuable protection.

“It’s true that children don’t get sick like adults, but for children under the age of 5, COVID is still the fifth leading cause of death,” Pannaraj said. “We also know that vaccinated people are 10 times less likely to die from COVID than unvaccinated people, so it’s very important that we’re able to protect the young.”

This remains the case in today’s environment – in which the combination of widespread vaccine coverage, the availability of tests and therapeutics, and the proliferation of the Omicron variant and its viral progeny has resulted in a wave that has seen many cases to date, but fewer hospitalizations than the earlier waves of the pandemic.

“Young people, again, need to realize that while Omicron isn’t as serious for everyone overall, it’s certainly much more transmissible now, and if they let their guard down too much, they’ll get it.” And for some, it can still be a serious illness,” said UCLA epidemiologist Dr. Robert Kim Farley.

In a joint statement, the director of the Ghaly and California Departments of Health and State Health Commissioner Dr. Tomás Aragón states that “COVID-19 hospitalizations for children under the age of 4 were five times higher during the Omicron surge than during Delta and 1 in. 5 children hospitalized with COVID-19 were also admitted to the ICU.

“Studies have shown that vaccinating our children is the safest way to protect them from the worst outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalization, prolonged COVID, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and death,” the statement said. “Having everyone in our homes and communities vaccinated will reduce the chances of the virus spreading to those we love most.”

For some, the shots offer more than protection—they give peace of mind.

“I think we’re going to be really comfortable with indoor activities now,” Acain said. “We’ve gone back to most other things, but we don’t generally eat out in restaurants and avoid anything crowded and indoors.

“We’re now confident that if someone gets sick, we can handle it,” she added. California kids under 5 begin getting COVID vaccines

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