Inching toward normalcy, experts urge families to schedule COVID-19 pediatric vaccinations

‘To fellow parents I say: If you have a child between 5 and 11, get them vaccinated, and give your child the power to safely learn, play, and be a kid,’ acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said

By: - November 4, 2021 3:55 pm

Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam speaks at a press conference. Harrisburg, PA – February 17, 2021

With the green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to kids ages 5 through 11, communities are inching closer to a return to normal.

“It is exciting to see parents lining up to get their children vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus that caused this pandemic,” acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said at a Thursday press conference in Scranton — less than 48 hours after the CDC signed off on the pediatric vaccine.

More than 414,000 doses will be available at Pennsylvania health care providers and pharmacies by the end of the week, Beam said. She added that the CDC plans to increase deliveries in the coming weeks. The pediatric vaccine is two doses, with the second dose coming three weeks after the first. 

The vaccine for kids ages 5 through 11 contains one-third the amount of active ingredient compared to the dose for those ages 12 and older. According to the CDC, the most common side effect during clinical trials was a sore arm.

The state Health Department confirmed an additional 5,162 positive coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to more than 1.58 million since the pandemic began. State officials also report that cases in school-aged children are nearly four times higher than in 2020.

Since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, nearly 60,000 school-aged children — ages 5 to 18 — have tested positive for COVID-19. At least 10,000 children ages 0-4 have contracted the virus, according to state data.

Health experts across the state and country stressed the importance of vaccines and layered mitigation efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, especially when it came to keeping schools open so kids could learn in person.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents doctors who specialize in children’s health, supported the CDC’s recommendation to administer the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, saying it’s the best way to protect kids’ health and participate in activities crucial to their development.

“The pandemic has taken a toll not only on the physical health of children, but also on their social, developmental, and emotional health,” Dr. Trude Haecker, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Thursday. “Thankfully, this vaccine will move us closer to a return to normalcy for our children and ensure that they can remain in school safely.”

COVID-19 vaccine availability for kids also means that state officials will reassess the universal mask mandate currently required in K-12 schools and childcare facilities.

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, told PennLive earlier this month that vaccine eligibility for kids “really changes the equation” for the mandate, which has been in effect since Sept. 7.

On Thursday, Mark O’Neill, a Health Department spokesperson, told the Capital-Star that state officials are “continually reviewing” COVID-19 case information. He added that the department is tracking community transmission rates, as well as the number of cases among Pennsylvania students, “which remain high,” he said.

O’Neill and Elizabeth Rementer, a spokesperson for Wolf, declined to outline a definitive timeline for when the mask mandate could be lifted and instead focused on administering vaccines to those eligible. Rementer said state officials expect a “strong turnout” in the coming weeks and then a “steady stream” of children getting vaccinated in the coming months.

“The pediatric vaccine is safe, and it is highly effective at protecting children against COVID-19-related illness, hospitalization, and death,” state acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said this week. “Vaccinating children against COVID-19 is the best way to keep families and communities healthy and schools safe.”

For more information about COVID-19 vaccine providers, visit vaccines.gov. The online tool also includes a search feature, so parents and guardians can find available appointments for the pediatric vaccine.

Penn State Health, UPMC, Geisinger, and local pharmacies also offer appointment scheduling online. 

“The vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 is a big step toward moving past the pandemic,” Beam said. “To fellow parents I say: If you have a child between 5 and 11, get them vaccinated, and give your child the power to safely learn, play, and be a kid.”

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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