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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Health Care officially expanded its COVID-19 vaccination effort Thursday to add newly-approved tweens and early teens, administering first shots to the 12-15 age group at a clinic in its Iowa River Landing location.
The UIHC clinic to vaccinate those children with the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — which the Food and Drug Administration approved Monday on an emergency basis — will continue through Saturday.
The UIHC push aligns with state guidance released Thursday to vaccine children in this age range — of which there are about 167,000 in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Separately, Hy-Vee announced it was offering vaccinations for 12-15 year olds at all its pharmacy locations, either by walk-in or appointment. It said minors must have consent from a parent or guardian, who also should accompany the child for the immunization. CVS Health also announced it would vaccinate 12-15 year olds, under the same conditions but by appointment.
The Pfizer vaccine already was authorized for those 16 and older, and a growing percentage of Iowans are getting it or one like it from Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, though at this point those are approved only for people 18 and over.
However, UI infectious disease professor and UI Epidemiologist Jorge Salinas urged more need to do so, including those with new access in the younger age range.
Q: Why get children vaccinated when they don’t seem to get as sick with the virus as adults?
A: For starters, Salinas said, the vaccines are extremely safe and effective for kids — like for adults.
“They appear to be just out of this world,” he said. “They hit the ball out of the park.”
Plus, according to Salinas, children can get very sick and develop severe disease even if rarely. By getting them vaccinated, they more assuredly won’t get sick or infect others.
“And by vaccinating that other group of the population, we bring the incidence of COVID even lower, which means that you can open up even more,” he said. “There are definitely personal and societal benefits of vaccinating everyone, including younger individuals.”
Q: What about the rumors of harmful effects on kids, like the vaccine inhibits fertility in younger patients?
A: “The myth, this urban legend that is a complete lie that COVID vaccines play any role in fertility — they don’t,” he said. “That should not be a concern to anyone.”
Q: So, in your opinion, should people get their kids vaccinated — even with so many adults in other countries still unvaccinated?
A: Salinas acknowledged there is an “ethical problem.”
“The ethical problem is that America has the luxury to vaccinate very young individuals when, in other countries, elderly people are dying, and there's nothing to do, and there is unfairness in this world,” he said. “So I’m not super thrilled that the world is so uneven.
“But from a medical point of view, and a local public health point of view, hands down this is the thing to do. Vaccinate your children,” he said. “Because even if you say, for ethical reasons, for moral principles, I'm not going to take the vaccine, it doesn't mean that vaccine is going to go to an elderly person abroad. It's just going to sit there.”
Q: What are the COVID-19 incidence rates and vaccination rates in Johnson County? And where would you like to see them?
A: Salinas said he wants to see an incidence rate of 10 cases per 100,000 people or less.
“Five for 100,000 would be even better,” he said. “And Johnson County, for example, is already there. It's at seven for 100,000.”
That means, according to Salinas, “You need to bump into 100,000 people to cross paths with seven people with COVID. So it's not that high.”
Q: In that vein, Gov. Kim Reynolds this week announced Iowans should begin to “live our lives more fully again” and said, “There’s no reason for us to continue to fear COVID-19 any longer.” Do you agree?
A: Salinas cited three factors in determining a person’s safety from the disease, starting with whether that person has been vaccinated.
“That’s like a shield that you have that protects you,” he said, conceding some have incorrectly interpreted that idea to mean they’re invincible. They’re not, according to Salinas, pointing to the second safety factor.
“The shield is great, but it’s not bulletproof,” he said. “If there are a lot of bullets out there, I would still be careful.”
What are the bullets, he asked? They’re COVID-19 cases and vaccination apathy. But, according to Salinas, if incidence rates are down and vaccination rates are high, life should and will begin to return to normal.
“You can go to restaurants,” he said of people who are fully vaccinated. “I know that restaurants have been open forever. But now I feel that it's OK. If you want, you can go into a restaurant, and you'll be OK because most people in Johnson County are vaccinated.”
Q: What about wearing masks? Do vaccinated people still need to do that indoors?
A: Salinas made clear wearing masks outdoors — when on a run, walk or ride — is unnecessary for those who are vaccinated. He also said vaccinated individuals attending outdoor gatherings don’t need masks; and even indoor gatherings where everyone is vaccinated can do without them. But he said masking indoors in larger public settings or stores continues to make sense for the time being.
Q: Do we know yet how long vaccine protection lasts?
A: Salinas said that’s not an answer officials have yet, but he feels confident in a year-plus of strong protection.
“If people are getting their shots now, they should expect more than a year of solid protection against COVID,” he said.
Q: And do we know whether public health officials will suggest people get booster shots down the road?
A: “There is a possibility that we will need a booster shot in a year, two years, three years,” Salinas said. “It's a lot of speculation, but it's likely that people will be offered a booster of vaccine at some point in the future.”
Q: Do people really need the second shot?
A: Salinas said yes. That shot actually works as a booster right now — like taking a second and third pass over material on which you’re being tested.
“The memory against the virus, that's what this second dose does,” he said. “For one of the most important tests of your life, you don't want to just read the content once.”
The second dose, he said, “increases the potency of the protection and how long it lasts.”
Q: Are you worried about some of the variants emerging — and whether the vaccine will work on those?
A: “Vaccines work against the variants,” he said. “I don't expect America getting into the Dark Ages again because of the reported variants.”
Q: Can you provide more details about how to get children ages 12-15 vaccinated at UIHC?
A: Pediatric vaccinations are available at Iowa River Landing, 5-8 p.m. Friday, 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday. There is open/direct scheduling on the website at uihc.org and it will be offered to patients coming in for in-clinic visits as well.
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