With COVID-19 vaccines now available to children as young as six months old, some Vermont parents are racing to get in line while others are less certain the shot is right for them.
Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended COVID-19 vaccines for children 6 months to 5 years of age.
Both the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been authorized for use.
The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for children from ages 6 months to 4 years old in two doses three weeks apart, followed by a third dose at least two months later. The Moderna vaccine was authorized for children from ages 6 months to 5 years old in two doses four weeks apart.
Pfizer doses are one-tenth the dosage given to adults; the Moderna doses are one-fourth the dosage.
On Saturday, the CDC encouraged families to get vaccinated and stressed the safety of the vaccine, stating, the shots have “undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”
In Vermont, vaccines may be available at pediatricians’ offices, pharmacies, WIC offices and a limited number of walk-in clinics as early as this week, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
About 26,000 additional Vermont children will now be eligible for vaccination, the department said.
“This is very welcome news for the parents and caregivers who have been waiting for more than a year now for their young children to benefit from a COVID-19 vaccine,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said in a statement Saturday. “Vaccines are the safer way to build protection against the virus and help prevent serious outcomes.”
But despite health experts’ assertions, some families are not ready to roll up the sleeves of their youngest children.
According to an April survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, only about 18% of parents with children younger than 5 said they would get the vaccines as soon as it was available, while 38% said they planned on waiting. About 27% of parents said they would “definitely not” get their child vaccinated. Another 11% said they would get vaccinated only if required.
More than half (56%) of parents with children younger than 5 said they did not have enough information about the vaccines’ safety and efficacy.
Maggie Prozzo, of Rutland Town, said she won’t get her 5-month-old son vaccinated anytime soon.
“We already had COVID, so we don’t need it,” she said.
Prozzo said she doesn’t plan to get her son the shot once his infection-induced immunity wears off.
“With the strain being so mild, I don’t see a reason to,” she said.
Despite her choice, Prozzo said other families should decide for themselves.
“If other people want to get it for their kids, that’s great, if that makes them feel more comfortable with being out and about,” she said.
Daron Raleigh, of Rutland Town, said while she’s comfortable getting her 10-month-old daughter vaccinated, she is proceeding cautiously.
Raleigh said she and her husband did not hesitate to get the vaccinated but have been more proactive in researching the efficacy of the vaccines for their daughter.
“I do think there’s just a new layer of critical thinking that happens when you start considering doing this for your child,” she said. “I think we’re both excited about additional protections for her — if for nothing else, long-term COVID.”
More than following the lead of state and national health experts, Raleigh said it was important for her to get advice from her own pediatrician, too.
Like Prozzo, Raleigh said it’s important for families to have the freedom to make their own decisions.
“I hope people want to get the vaccine — not just for themselves but for their kids — but I also think, when it comes down to making decisions about your children, that is between you and your partner … if you’re raising them with someone,” she said.
Dr. Rebecca Bell, president of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said both the AAPVT and the Vermont Academy of Family Physicians highly recommend that all children aged 6 months and older get vaccinated.
“Whether or not you have an underlying medical condition, whether or not your child has had COVID in the past, we recommend vaccination,” she said.
She added that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective and encouraged families to get whichever vaccine their child’s medical provider has available.
Bell said the vaccines produce the same antibody response in younger children as they do in adults and older children. However, while they are expected to be effective, mild infection from highly transmissible strains like omicron and delta is still possible.
“We know even with adults who are vaccinated that the vaccine doesn’t work as well to prevent infection, but it does work really well to prevent serious disease and hospitalization and death,” she said. “So we expect based on the antibody response, that the vaccines will be very efficacious at preventing those serious complications of COVID in young children.”
She advised families who may be holding out on the vaccine until this fall not to wait too long because the vaccine regimen requires multiple doses spread over several weeks before they are fully effective.
“If they were to start now, which is what I would recommend … then they will be at peak immunity in the fall, as child care or school starts up and as that respiratory viral season gets into swing,” she said.
Bell said she’s heard a wide range of reactions to the vaccines from parents.
One question she’s been hearing frequently is whether kids need to get vaccinated if they’ve already had COVID.
Bell acknowledged that while infection-induced immunity does provide some temporary protection from reinfection, those protections last about three months at most and are not as strong as vaccine-induced immunity.
“We don’t know what we’ll see in the fall and winter in terms of variants, so having omicron this past winter is not going to be enough to provide durable protection in the coming months,” she said.
Another question she’s been fielding is whether healthy children need the shot at all.
“I have seen healthy children who have gotten really sick from COVID,” she said. “So we recommend the vaccine for all healthy children (and) for children who have underlying medical conditions.”
Bell emphasized that the vaccines have been rigorously tested and said the benefits outweigh the risks. She noted around 570 million doses have already been given out to older children and adults in the U.S. alone.
She said side effects, which can include soreness at the injection site and fever, are mild and similar to those of other childhood vaccinations. COVID-19 vaccines, she noted, can be administered along with other childhood vaccines and do not require a separate doctor visit.
“We have just a lot of experience with these vaccines,” she said. “As pediatricians, we’ve been vaccinating adolescents for over a year now, and we’ve been vaccinating school-aged children since the fall. So we feel really comfortable with these vaccines.”
Visit healthvermont.gov/kidsvaccine for additional information.