116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For parents and health care providers alike, administering the first COVID-19 shots to Iowa’s youngest is a long-awaited step in the campaign to offer protection against the coronavirus.
And to some families, it’s a relief.
Pediatrician Dr. Rochelle Remus is a mother to 20-month-old twins who received their first shots Thursday at the Mercy Pediatric Clinic’s first vaccine clinic. To her, the decision to vaccinate her children — Bryce and Joyce — was an easy one, especially after months of encouraging her patients’ families to seek out the shots.
“I wouldn't ask (my patients) to do something to their kids that I wasn't willing to do for my own,” said Remus, who is a provider at the Mercy Pediatric Clinic in Cedar Rapids.
It’s a sentiment shared by other pediatricians and other health care providers across Eastern Iowa as the first vaccines for this young age group have become available. However, vaccine providers say after the initial rush for shots, the demand for vaccine appointments has been slow among local families.
Likely it’s because the risk of serious illness and hospitalization from an infection is less front-of-mind for these families than in earlier stages of the pandemic, Remus said.
“Maybe a year or a year and a half ago, we would have seen more, but we’re not hearing about hospitals being overrun with patients constantly, ” Remus said.
The first pediatric doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered to babies, toddlers and preschoolers across Eastern Iowa this past week after federal health officials approved the shots for children 6 months to 5 years. Approximately 195,000 children aged less than 5 live in the state, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Two vaccines were approved for use: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 6 months through 4 years, and the Moderna vaccine for kids ages 6 months through 5 years old.
The Pfizer vaccine for children under 5 is three 3-microgram doses, about one-tenth of the dose given to adults. The first and second doses are given between three to eight weeks apart, and the third dose is given about eight weeks after the second shot.
Children getting the Moderna vaccine will receive two 25-microgram doses given four to eight weeks apart. By comparison, those aged 12 and older receive two 100-microgram doses.
Health care clinics and pharmacies began offering the first shots to young Iowans last week after the state delivered 23,500 pediatric doses in the first round of vaccine distribution.
Demand for shots at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the state’s largest health system, was “initially very high,” said UIHC Chief Pharmacy Officer Mike Brownlee. When the system opened up the first appointments June 22, 250 slots filled “almost immediately,” he said.
Among those first patients was Ruth Koonce, a 17-month-old in North Liberty. Her mother, Lisa Koonce, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse practitioner at UIHC, wanted her daughter to get the shots as soon as possible not just for her own safety, but also to help protect elderly family members.
“I just feel every since she got it, it seems like brighter days are ahead,” Koonce said. “For us, for her and for the community as a whole, now that we can get the littlest vaccinated and help protect the really vulnerable.”
UIHC received 1,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 2,000 doses of Moderna. To date, 300 doses have been administered to children within this age group, both during vaccine clinics and during regular office visits, Brownlee said.
In addition, UIHC has 360 children scheduled to receive their first shots in vaccine clinics over the next couple of weeks — which does not include those being vaccinated during regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments, Brownlee said.
In response to patient demand, UIHC has opened more vaccine appointments at its Iowa River Landing Clinic as well as at clinics in the region.
UnityPoint Health clinics in the Cedar Rapids metro area received 400 pediatric doses in its first shipment. Of that, about 80 doses have been administered in the past week, said Dr. Dinah Conti, pediatric specialist.
The approach to vaccinating children is the same as with any other vaccine, Conti said. It would be administered in the same spot and parents can expect the same side effects — slight fever and fussiness for about 24 hours after the shot.
Retail pharmacies, such as Hy-Vee, have also begun offering vaccine appointments. Conti said those vaccine providers are capable of administering COVID-19 shots to this age group, and parents don’t need to wait for an appointment at their pediatrician if they’re comfortable seeking shots from another provider.
When federal approval for the COVID-19 vaccines was announced, Conti said she was excited to be able to offer her patients this level of protection from serious illness. Data has shown both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization in young children.
“It’s very exciting,” Conti said. “We needed the data to support giving the vaccine and the safety of the vaccine, and we’ve got it.”
Conti encouraged families to vaccinate children of this age group, emphasizing it is a safe and necessary step as the coronavirus continues to spread across the state.
“As an individual and a physician, I’m ethically bound to only recommend what is safe and what has good evidence to support,” she said. “If I didn’t believe it was safe and effective, I wouldn’t give it. I wouldn’t have given it to my kid — she got the COVID jab the first day she could. If it’s not good enough for her, it wouldn’t be good enough for my patients.”
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