Local health leaders discuss the importance of COVID-19 vaccines for kids, address common concerns

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FILE – In this Oct. 5, 2021, file photo a healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. President Joe Biden’s most aggressive move yet to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is almost ready to see the light of day. The government is close to publishing the details of a new vaccination-or-testing rule covering more than 80 million Americans at companies with 100 or more workers. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Local health leaders are being proactive and prepping for the day 5 to 11-year-olds can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

During Thursday’s COVID-19 press briefing, Monica Hendrickson, Peoria City/County Public Health Administrator, said the area’s hospital systems, federally qualified health centers, and local health departments already pre-ordered Pfizer pediatric vaccines.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Committee recommended the Pfizer vaccine for use in 5 to 11-year-olds. Hendrickson said this was just the beginning of the process.

“This again is the first step in a multi-step process before we can get that vaccine into the arms of our 5 to 11-year-olds,” Hendrickson said.

She said the next step would be for the FDA to issue an emergency use authorization for the vaccine, then it would go to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to make its recommendation next week, and finally, the director of the CDC would review it and make her recommendation.

“It can be a very quick turnaround once that news hits,” Hendrickson said.

Dr. Nora Philbin, Associate Medical Director of Pediatrics with UnityPoint Health, spoke about the importance of the vaccine for children. She gave some numbers on how the virus has impacted children in the country.

“Even in the last six weeks alone, we’ve had 1.1 million children diagnosed with COVID-19 infection,” Philbin said.

She said more than 150 children who died from COVID-19 were between the ages of 5 and 11.

Philbin also addressed common questions she’s gotten from parents regarding the vaccine for children, including concerns that the vaccine was rushed, and the technology is too new.

“I just want to emphasize to everyone that there were no shortcuts taken in making these vaccines, and it was a collaboration of scientists all over the world and a great amount of teamwork, energy, and impetus to get these vaccines made,” Philbin said. “The technology for mRNA vaccines is decades old, people have been investigating this for years. Although the vaccines are relatively new, the technology is not.”

She also said there’s been no data that has shown the vaccines have any effect on fertility or puberty in children.

Philbin said once the CDC gives its official approval, UnityPoint can start to roll out the vaccines through its pediatricians’ office and in-school health centers.

Hendrickson said, although they’ve pre-ordered vaccines, they’re not getting a large enough allocation right away.

“Peoria County’s census for 5 to 11-year-olds is 15,000 individuals, and we were able to order about 300 at a time as providers,” Hendrickson said. “We hope to be able to have such an interest that we can continue to order as much as possible, that would be wonderful for our community.”

Hendrickson also touched on COVID-19 booster shots now that all three vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have been approved and are available for boosters.

She said the area has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases for the 60 years-old and older population. She said this population was amongst the first to get vaccinated and should get a booster to help maintain their levels of immunity.

“They were really getting their first doses in January, their second doses in February, so they’re already at high risk and already eight months out when we were recommending six months,” Hendrickson said. “We do see those cases come up, and we’re hoping to address that as fast as possible.”

Hendrickson also said in addition to this age group, those with underlying health conditions and those who work in high-risk settings should also get a booster.

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