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Parents of 5-to-11-year-olds race to line up coronavirus vaccine appointments

A patient holds a timer and paperwork after getting the coronavirus vaccine at Children's National Hospital in May. Health officials are gearing up to provide vaccines to children ages 5 to 11. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Like all her friends, D.C. mom Sarah Remes is eager to see her 11-year-old son vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as possible.

Days before federal officials greenlighted the shots for younger children, the Chevy Chase resident had locked down vaccination appointments at the local Jewish community center as well as her child’s private school, and was ready to jump at the chance for a dose even earlier at a pediatrician’s office or pharmacy.

“The soonest available is when we’re going to do it,” she said.

Remes is among the one-third of parents of 5-to-11-year-olds, national data from Kaiser Family Foundation shows, who wanted to get their kids vaccinated when they became eligible.

Vaccination program for children 5 to 11 will be in full swing Nov. 8

Pediatricians and schools here have been inundated with requests from parents racing to get their children vaccinated in time for Thanksgiving and winter holiday travel plans.

Yet the vaccine, which is specifically packaged and formulated for younger kids, will be limited at first, as clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies stock their shelves and update their procedures to include the youngest cohort of vaccine recipients so far.

Some experts compared the phenomenon to the Hunger Games-style scramble that played out last winter and spring, when the vaccine was first cleared for adults but supplies were extremely limited.

Federal officials late Tuesday gave the go-ahead to make the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available to as many as 28 million children in the United States, and within days parents should be able to find appointments at vaccines.gov.

D.C. region prepares to roll out coronavirus vaccine to 5- to 11-year-olds

Public health officials in the Washington region are fine-tuning plans months in the making to offer vaccines in schools, doctor’s offices and pharmacies, but the logistics of rolling out millions of doses means not everyone can get vaccinated right away.

That may not reassure parents such as Remes, who dropped everything while having coffee with a friend at Broad Branch Market to sign up for a vaccine slot.

“I am well-practiced in the ways of activities and camp registry in D.C., and I know things fill up in seconds,” she said.

The higher stakes only increase her sense of urgency.

“I certainly don’t want him to get sick,” she said of her son. “Even though I know children are less likely to get acutely ill from covid, I’m concerned about any long-term impacts.”

Fairfax County officials anticipate significant uptake of the vaccine among children 5 to 11, based on the high vaccination rate there among those 12 and older as well as adults, said Colin Brody, who is leading the county’s mass vaccination effort.

“We are asking for patience in these initial days just as we work to bring online a new vaccine while we are also providing boosters, and we still have folks coming in every day for dose number one,” he said.

As many as 80,000 of the county’s 97,000 eligible children are likely to seek a vaccine in the next few months, Brody said, making it the biggest rollout since the spring.

Tracking coronavirus deaths, cases and vaccinations in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

At first, officials will focus on mass vaccination sites at the county government centers at 12000 Government Center Parkway and 8350 Richmond Highway, as well as the state-run clinic at 7950 Tysons Corner Center and at the Inova Center for Personalized Health.

In the early days, most locations will require appointments, but walk-ins will be available as supplies increase, he said. Once the initial surge has subsided, parents can accompany their children to night and weekend clinics at school, and come early January, schools will vaccinate children during the day with parental consent, he said.

In Prince George’s County, vaccines will be available at the county’s Sports and Learning Complex clinic as well as at select public schools using mobile units starting Monday, spokesman George Lettis said. The health department encourages families to seek vaccines at their pediatrician’s office, pharmacy or their nearest school, which will hold clinics after school at least through mid-December, he said.

Montgomery County officials plan to extend hours at three vaccination sites — East County Recreation Center, the Silver Spring Civic Building and Montgomery College at the Germantown campus — to vaccinate kids, health department spokeswoman Mary Anderson said. School clinics will also offer doses in locations with a focus on hard-hit communities.

The vaccination push comes as county officials Tuesday updated indoor masking policies to reflect the ebb and flow of infection rates there. Face coverings now will be required indoors if the county reports seven consecutive days of 50 or more new cases per 100,000 residents or if the county’s seven-day positivity rate is 8 percent or higher for seven days.

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The county lifted its mask mandate last week when cases dropped, only to face having to reimpose it a day later when case rates rose again.

“The goal . . . is to balance public health concerns with stability and predictability for residents on indoor masking guidance,” Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said.

Throughout the region, new infections and hospitalizations have been on the decline for several weeks, but public health experts warn against the complacency that set in before the highly contagious delta variant triggered another surge.

Elizabeth A. Stuart, a Tenleytown mom of two, is acutely aware of the risks of coronavirus as a professor of health policy and management in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. For her, the vaccine for children can’t come soon enough.

In preparation for the federal go-ahead, Stuart said she reminded herself not to panic if she couldn’t find a vaccine for her 10-year-old son in the first week or two.

“I know the rollout might be challenging in the beginning, so I’m trying to be realistic about how quickly I might be able to get an appointment,” she said.

She will still keep a supply of rapid antigen tests on hand, but a fully vaccinated household will mean being able to visit her husband’s family in Canada for the first time in two years, and the confidence to do some things indoors in time for the colder weather.

“It will give our family a little bit of breathing room — and just reassurance,” she said.

Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.

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Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

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Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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