Wednesday afternoon, the parking lot of Pediatric Associates of Charlottesville was packed with parents and young children braving a storm to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.
The drive-thru clinic was the first in Charlottesville to offer the vaccine to children between 6 months and 5 years old. A half dozen Pediatric Associate staff and volunteers worked through torrential rain to vaccinate 240 kids.
“So many thanks to this group of water-soaked heroes!” the office wrote in a Facebook post after the event, which included pictures of the staff, barefoot and dripping. Their shoes were so wet, they’d taken them off.
More than a year and a half since the first COVID-19 vaccine was offered to frontline healthcare workers and people living in long-term care facilities, federal agencies this weekend finally authorized the vaccine for toddlers. Pediatric offices can begin vaccinating young patients as soon as they have the children’s dose.
For Pediatric Associates, that was Wednesday. The Blue Ridge Health District will start vaccinating children at daily events Friday, and UVA Health will hold a clinic on Saturday. Both agencies are vaccinating by appointment only.
Spots are filling fast, but both health agencies anticipate they will have enough pediatric doses to quickly meet local demand.
“We don’t know just yet what the demand will be like, but we believe we will have enough vaccine,” said Kathryn Goodman, a spokesperson for the health district. “We have a limited number of clinics, so people may not be able to get an appointment right away. But pharmacies and other healthcare providers are offering the vaccine as well.”
The long awaited approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for young children comes as a relief to many parents, especially as more young children are becoming sick with the newer variants of COVID-19. In the last week, nearly 2,600 children reported a positive COVID-19 test in Virginia, down from a recent peak of nearly 4,000 in a week in late May.
“It’s been so stressful,” said Ciera Burton, a Charlottesville mother of a two-year-old.
Burton’s daughter, Kaicey, was born in October 2019. Months later, when the first local cases of COVID-19 were reported and health officials warned people to stay home to curb the disease spread, Burton isolated her baby from friends and family.
The isolation was hard, Burton said. And she’s just now starting to allow people to be around her daughter.
“It’s weird seeing her just getting to know people she should have known all her life,” Burton said.
There is still hesitancy among some parents about vaccinating small children.
Burton is vaccinated, she said. But she plans to wait to give her baby the shot.
“It’s just so new, that’s why,” Burton said. “I want to wait. She can’t tell me what is wrong like I can tell her what is wrong.”
Local health officials are already anticipating vaccine hesitancy. More than 25% of adults in Virginia are not fully vaccinated and more than 55% of children between 5 and 11 are unvaccinated, according to the state health department. Unvaccinated children in that age group are about 1.4 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than vaccinated children, according to the CDC.
With those statistics in mind, health officials are quick to assure parents that the vaccine is safe.
“All the COVID-19 vaccines have undergone a rigorous review process before being authorized for a given age group,” the Blue Ridge Health District said in a statement. “Scientists and medical experts have worked to ensure the vaccine is safe for children and adolescents ages 6 monts to 17 years old. Before being authorized for children, these experts completed their review of safety and effectiveness data from clinical trials involving thousands of children. What’s more, 22 million children and adolescents, ages 5-17 have already received the COVID-19 vaccine.”