U.S. hospitals, clinics and pharmacies began vaccinating the country’s youngest children against COVID-19 on Tuesday, a step that has been welcomed by parents eager to protect children from the worst effects of the virus.
The rollout of millions of vaccines was underway across the country, 18 months after the elderly became the first group eligible for vaccination.
Children aged 6 months to 4 years are not as at risk as adults.
But the sheer level of infections has resulted in more than 45,000 hospitalizations and nearly 500 deaths in the newborn to 4-year-old age group in America since the pandemic began, outcomes that vaccination could have prevented in many cases.
“We are thrilled,” said Amisha Vakil, mother of two 3-year-old boys who wore matching Spider-Man t-shirts as they received their Moderna snaps at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
One of the twins underwent three open-heart surgeries in his first five months.
“He’s very high risk, so you know, we live in a little bubble,” Vakil said. “Now he has a little armor which helps a lot.”
The timing was also welcomed by President Joe Biden, whose administration made 10 million Moderna and Pfizer vaccines available to states after they were authorized last week.
“The United States is now the first country in the world to provide safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old,” Biden said, calling it a “monumental step forward.”
A handful of other countries and territories, including Argentina, Bahrain, Chile, China, Cuba, Hong Kong and Venezuela previously offered COVID vaccines for toddlers, but these did not include vaccines to mRNA, considered to be the cutting-edge technology for this purpose.
The European Medicines Agency is reviewing the Moderna vaccine for use in children under 6 and may follow the US decision.
Born in pandemic
Many of the children brought in on Tuesday were born after the pandemic began and have known only a lifetime of restrictions.
Anna Farrow, who came to the same hospital with her husband, Luke, said she saw a new beginning for their sons, George, 3, and Hope, 10 months.
“It’s sort of the start of a normal childhood. And we’re very excited about it,” she said.
Across the country, in Needham, Mass., Ellen Dietrick, an administrator at Temple Beth Shalom was preparing to welcome 300 children on the first day.
Daniel Grieneisen, the father of a 3-year-old girl who was vaccinated, said: “It means we are only a few weeks away from being able to take her [to] places inside, and kind of starting to live our lives again, that’s pretty exciting.”
Last week, a panel of experts called by the Food and Drug Administration reviewed data from clinical trials involving thousands of children that were conducted by Pfizer and Moderna and found both vaccines safe and effective.
However, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in May found that only one in five parents of children under age 5 wanted them vaccinated immediately. A slightly higher proportion, 38%, said they would wait to see how well the vaccine would work for others.
New Yorker Rita Saeed, 29, said she was concerned about side effects and planned to wait a few years before deciding to have her 2-year-old son vaccinated.
“Each to their own, I think it should be optional, not required,” she said as she pushed her son in a stroller through Central Park.
Hal Moore, a 32-year-old teacher who lives in New York, said he was “definitely relieved” to be able to get his 10-month-old daughter, Lucy, vaccinated, but “we’ll probably wait until her next regular appointment to get it. “
In a sign of the ongoing politicization surrounding vaccines in America, Florida Governor and possible Republican presidential nominee Ron DeSantis refused to place an order with the federal government for vaccines for the youngest children, leaving private practices and the parents fend for themselves.
“These are the people who have no risk of getting anything,” he told a news conference last week.