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Thousands of COVID-19 shots have been given to children ages five to 11 in the first two weeks of eligibility, with demand for appointments among this age group locally remaining steady, public health officials say.
Earlier this month, federal health officials approved the Pfizer-BioNTech two-dose vaccine for children ages five to 11 years old, clearing the way for more than 284,000 children in Iowa to be immunized against the novel coronavirus.
More than 16,000 doses of the vaccine were administered to children in that age group in Iowa between Nov. 3 and Nov. 12, public health officials say.
Nationwide, about 2.6 million five-to-11-year-olds have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the initial two weeks of distribution, the White House said. That’s nearly 10 percent of children in that age group in the United States.
Health care providers say children who receive their first COVID-19 shot by this week will be fully vaccinated in time for the year-end holidays. They continue to encourage parents to schedule appointments for their eligible children as soon as possible.
“The more kids we can get vaccinated this week, the closer we will be to starting a new year with our kids safely in school, participating in activities and maintaining a more normal lifestyle with protection from COVID-19,” said Dr. Theresa Brennan, chief medical officer at University of Iowa Health Care.
Johnson County Public Health estimates about 3,000 first doses have been given so far to young county residents within this age group, said Sam Jarvis, community health division manager at Johnson County Public Health.
That includes about 2,300 first doses administered by providers at the University of Iowa Health Care, officials there said.
It’s unclear how many first doses have been administered in Linn County as the state was unable to provide that information to local public health departments, according to Heather Meador, clinical services supervisor at Linn County Public Health.
Federal health officials had anticipated about 30 percent of the eligible population would seek out the shots right away, and that’s reflected in the demand public health officials and vaccine providers are seeing locally, Jarvis said.
“The first week, many of us received a deluge of calls of where and when they can get their children vaccinated, which is a great sign,” Jarvis said.
The rush for vaccine appointments among this age group — though beginning to taper off — has persisted longer than it did for children in older age groups, one UIHC official said.
Where demand in the aged 12 and older dwindled after about a week, the demand for shots in those ages five through 11 has persisted for two weeks, UIHC Chief Pharmacy Officer Mike Brownlee said.
There’s likely less rush for appointments among the aged 12 to 17 group because they would be more involved in decision-making, whereas the younger population’s decisions largely are determined by parents and caregivers, Brownlee said.
“For the five-to-11-year-old group, there were likely more parents telling their kids they needed to get it for safety reasons,” he said.
Brownlee also noted the community is experiencing a higher rate of transmission in schools at this time, which may be increasing demand.
Linn County Public Health officials are seeing an increasing number of children testing positive for COVID-19, with some schools reaching 10 percent absenteeism among its students. Meador said it’s unusual for so many local schools to reach that benchmark so early in the academic year.
“We’re seeing more and more cases of COVID-19 in kids,” Meador said. “We are in a better place than we were a year ago, but we still have a ways to go.”
Federal officials say about half of all 12-to-17-year-olds in the United States have been fully vaccinated since the Pfizer vaccine received federal approval in May and, so far, incidents of serious side effects are rare.
The most common side effect among children younger than 12 has been a sore arm, UIHC providers say.
“Anecdotally the lower dose appears to have less side effects compared to the higher dose,” Brownlee said. “That was somewhat to be expected.”
Meador said it’s natural that parents and caregivers will have questions about the vaccines for children, but it’s important they talk to their health care provider.
“They are part of the team working to keep your child healthy and well,” Meador said. “Tell them about why you’re hesitant.
“It’s a good conversation to have because we all want the same thing, we all have the same goal. We want children to be healthy and well, and we want them to be in school and be happy and productive.”
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The Washington Post contributed to this report.