Kids story

Toddler shots: COVID vaccinations begin for America’s toddlers

Little Fletcher Pack woke up Monday morning and asked, “Is today vaccine day?”

For the 3-year-old from Lexington, South Carolina, the answer was yes.

Infants, toddlers and preschoolers nationwide finally have their chance to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the United States rolls out vaccines for toddlers this week. Shipments arrived at select locations over the weekend and select locations, including a Walgreens in South Carolina and another in New York, opened appointments for Monday.

Fletcher’s mother said that once her son was fully vaccinated, he could finally go bowling and visit the nearby children’s museum.

“He’s never really played with another kid indoors before,” McKenzie Pack said. “It will be a very big change for our family.”

She began looking for a date last week as US regulators moved to approve vaccines for children 6 months to 5 years old.

“It’s just a relief,” Pack said. “With this vaccine, it will be his best chance to return to normal and have a normal childhood.”

The Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to Moderna and Pfizer childhood vaccines on Friday and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended them on Saturday. In the United States, COVID-19 vaccines were first tested and administered in late 2020 to healthcare workers and the elderly. Teenagers and school-age children were added last year.

“This is certainly an exciting time in what has become a very long COVID-19 vaccination campaign,” said Dr. Matthew Harris, emergency room pediatrician at Northwell Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York City.

Many parents were eagerly awaiting the rollout, and Harris said vaccines for her own 9-month-old are a “matter of when, not if”.

About 18 million young people under the age of 5 are eligible.

“It’s just a huge step toward normalcy,” said Dr. Debra Langlois, a pediatrician at CS Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.

“We’ve been in this pandemic for over two years and there are things my 4-year-old has never been able to do,” Langlois said.

The family skipped a trip to Disneyland and a popular Michigan vacation island because the ferry ride to Mackinac Island would mean mingling with unmasked passengers.

President Joe Biden, public health authorities and pediatricians hailed the moment. But they also acknowledged that getting some parents on board can be a challenge given disappointing vaccination rates – around 30% – among school-aged children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association were among physician groups encouraging doctors and families to get young children vaccinated.

The CDC advises vaccination even for those who have already had COVID-19 to protect against reinfection, and says it’s okay to get other vaccines at the same time. For the little ones, there’s Pfizer’s three-shot series or Moderna’s two-shot.

In the largely Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York, Dr. Juan Tapia Mendoza’s clinic has ordered 300 doses of toddler-sized vaccines. He said he needed educational materials that directly tackle the misinformation spreading among parents.

His approach will be to tell parents “if they were my children, I would have them vaccinated”.

“Because the virus is still there. Many people are still dying from the coronavirus. Children are infected and some children are seriously affected and no one wants to see a very sick child.

Some hospitals have scheduled vaccination events later this week. Chicago is among places offering injections of COVID-19 into people’s homes and plans to open registration this week for in-home appointments for infants and other young children, said Maribel Chavez-Torres, a deputy commission of the city’s public health department.

Dr. Pam Zeitlin, director of pediatric medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, recommends parents get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.

“Some parents worry that the younger the child, the more vulnerable they are to side effects from the vaccine,” Zeitlin said, but that’s not what the Pfizer and Moderna studies found. Side effects were similar to those seen with other childhood vaccines – fever, irritability and fatigue.

This story was first published on June 20, 2022. It was updated on June 22, 2022 to correct Dr. Pam Zeitlin’s last name, not Zeitland.

AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.