Eighteen months after a New York nurse received the first U.S. coronavirus vaccination, immunizations became available Tuesday for millions of children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, the last group of Americans to be afforded that protection.
Some parents rushed to get the vaccine early Tuesday morning. In Washington, D.C., Chinmay Hegde’s 14-month-old daughter Ada was the first child to receive a shot Tuesday morning at Children’s National Hospital. She winced as the needle went in, but it wasn’t as bad as her routine vaccinations.
“The last time we came here she ended up getting five shots in the same day,” Hegde said. “I think the fact that there was only one, she was like, ‘Oh great, good deal.’ ”
At a city-run covid center on U Street, a line of parents and strollers snaked around the corner as Asia Perazich waited with her 3-year-old son Mica and 1-year-old daughter Zia.
“I wish it had happened sooner,” Perazich said as Mica doodled in a watercolor book. “It’ll be nice to be able to take them to a restaurant and not worry.”
In Houston, Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital, said: “We began vaccinating the first children at 6 a.m. We have shots in arms now. We have hundreds of children lining up, and our goal is to get this vaccine to thousands of children in the greater Houston area and Texas.
“The children are handling it as well or better than the adults,” he added.
President Biden spoke Tuesday afternoon at the White House, calling the development affecting as many as 19 million children nationwide “a very historic milestone, a monumental step forward.” He said the United States is now the first nation to offer vaccine to children as young as six months and urged parents to get their children vaccinated. Biden earlier visited a city-run coronavirus center where vaccines were being offered to children.
Nancy Wyss of Chicago said she scheduled an appointment to vaccinate her 3-year-old daughter next week. Wyss said she has been waiting for this moment for the “health and protection” of her daughter and so the family can feel safer when they visit the girl’s grandparents.
Wyss said the vaccine will also help “my own sanity.” Wyss said her daughter’s day care currently closes if a child or teacher gets coronavirus; once children are vaccinated they will keep the center open if there is a case. The vaccine will also ease Wyss’s worries about flying.
“We are going on a trip at the beginning of August, so it makes us more comfortable flying with her and seeing her grandparents. It’s exciting. We’ve been waiting a long time,” she said.
For parents who have been eager to vaccinate their children, Tuesday was the end of a long, difficult period when babies, toddlers and preschool-aged children did not have access to vaccines that have proved highly effective in preventing death and hospitalization for the rest of the population.
But a Kaiser Family Foundation Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor poll released in May found them to be a distinct minority. Eighteen percent of parents with children younger than 5 said they were eager to get the youngsters vaccinated immediately. More than a third of parents — 38 percent — said they planned to see how the vaccine works in other children, and 27 percent reported they would “definitely not” have their children vaccinated. Eleven percent said they would do so if required.
The survey was taken before the Food and Drug Administration found the vaccines safe and effective for the youngest children and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave them the green light Saturday.
In some places, there was an initial rush for appointments. “It really has only been about 24 hours since vaccine was delivered and our call center has been inundated with phone calls about getting this vaccine,” said Mary Zimmerman, a nurse and immunizations specialist for Spectrum Health in Michigan.
In New York, there was a one-day delay while vaccine sites awaited final approval from the state Health Department. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens and medical director of the coronavirus vaccine program at Northwell Health, said vaccinations for children under 5 in New York City would likely begin Wednesday.
Florida, which refused to preorder vaccine until the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) backed off and allowed doctors to request it Friday, is unlikely to see any vaccinations until later this week, according to the state Department of Health. The state government, which does not recommend the vaccine for healthy children, was the only one in the nation not to preorder the vaccine.
Biden on Tuesday said that “elected officials shouldn’t get in the way and make it more difficult,” for parents who want to see their children vaccinated. “This is no time for politics.”
About 13.5 million children have tested positive for the virus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, offering them some protection against it. According to federal health data that analyzed blood tests, the number is even higher — by the end of February it showed that 3 out of 4 children nationwide had been infected with the coronavirus.
But health authorities say all children should be vaccinated, because it is the best way to provide children with durable protection and reduce the chances of another infection and complications.
Children are less likely than other people in other age groups to become seriously ill from the virus, but they are not invulnerable. More than 1,000 have died, more than 40,000 have been hospitalized and more than 8,500 have suffered a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which can cause inflammation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, eyes and other organs, according to the CDC.
Houston parent Brittany Kruger said Tuesday that she will not be getting her children vaccinated.
“My children have had covid, and the only reason we knew is because we had it. So we tested them. They showed no symptoms, much like the majority of children we know,” she said. “I feel that my children, at their ages, have very little risk of side effects from covid. In fact, I am more fearful of what a shot that’s newer to the market would do in the long term.”
But Amisha Vakil, who has twin 3-year-olds, Jiyan and Kian, one of whom is at high risk awaiting a heart transplant, was at Texas Children’s at 6:30 a.m. to have both children vaccinated.
“Getting both of my children vaccinated today means a lot for us, especially to give Jiyan that shield, a little armor,” she said.
“For two years we’ve pretty much been in quarantine,” she added. “We couldn’t send them to preschool or any activities. Kian stayed home, too, because he might bring something home with him.”
Almost 67 percent of the U.S. population is vaccinated — a proportion that has barely increased in recent months despite the efforts of government and private health officials. The virus has killed more than 1 million Americans, the largest known total of any nation in the world.
At Seattle Children’s Hospital, parents and their children stood for 15 minutes outside the vaccination room. Some children had barely said their first words, and restless others darted up and down the corridors. The hospital was prepared; the Seattle Storm mascot Doppler arrived to give children a 7-foot, red and yellow, shaggy distraction.
Erin Murphy, who was at the hospital with her 3-year-old son, said covid protections kept him from attending his great-grandfather’s funeral, and he stayed home with his father. Now, the boy joined his family in being vaccinated, and has documentary evidence to prove it.
“Everyone got a photo when they got vaccinated, and now he has his own,” Murphy said.
Edwin Lindo, who teaches critical race theory at the University of Washington School of Medicine, was among the first in line and sees the vaccination of his two young children as a step against the inequities exposed by the pandemic. When his 8-month-old son was infected two months ago, “It was scary,” he said. Lindo brought the baby to the hospital during his illness — and brought him back Tuesday to get vaccinated.
“This is our way to fight and say that we’re not going to be the product of legacies of racism, we’re not going to succumb to being a statistic. We’re going to live another day to fight, so that we can actually change the outcomes of our community,” Lindo said.
Mark Del Beccaro, assistant deputy chief of coronavirus testing and immunization programs at the Seattle and King County Public Health office, said he expects that vaccinations for young children will surge in the next month, then drop off as more families are hesitant about the effects on younger children. King County is among the most vaccinated counties in the United States.
“It’s a great time to be vaccinated, so that people can be less worried about family gatherings, and just as importantly be prepared for the fall, when everyone will be driven back inside again,” Del Beccaro said.
Katie Shepherd in Washington, Mark Guarino in Chicago, Ken Hoffman in Houston, Barbara Liston in Orlando, Ian Morse in Seattle and Jack Wright in New York contributed to this report.