Last Wednesday, Governor Dan McKee and the Rhode Island Department of Health announced that children five to 11 years old will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
The announcement follows a Nov. 2 recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be both safe and 90.7% effective for children in this age group, with mild side effects. Like the vaccine for adults, Pfizer-BioNTech is a two-dose series with three weeks between shots. But the dosage is only 10 milligrams, one third of the size of the dose for individuals twelve and older.
Vaccination clinics for children are being set up around the state in schools, primary care facilities, pharmacies, health centers and community clinics. As of Wednesday morning, 2,859 children in Rhode Island had received their first dose of the vaccine, and 7,000 additional children are registered to receive the vaccine. Approximately 80,000 children in Rhode Island aged five through eleven are now eligible to be vaccinated.
This expansion of eligibility comes as 79.5% of Rhode Islanders are at least partially vaccinated, and Rhode Island remains in the CDC’s “high transmission” category with 185.3 new cases per day, according to the RIDOH.
Philip Chan, consultant medical director at the Rhode Island Department of Health and associate professor of medicine at the University, said that vaccinating “five to 11 year olds (is) a step in the right direction. As we’ve seen the emergence of variants, we’ve seen kids affected and infected more, so this is an important subset of the population that now has access to the vaccine.”
Although it is too early to tell how many children will get vaccinated, he said, “uptake has been brisk.”
Victor Martinez, who lives outside of Seekonk, MA, brought his 10-year-old son Eddie to get vaccinated at Agnes B. Hennessey Elementary School in East Providence this Wednesday. He told The Herald that he “was very excited” to see that his youngest child became eligible for the vaccine.
Martinez, who is fully vaccinated, said that although he understands why some parents might be hesitant to vaccinate their young children, he decided it “was the right thing to do,” as he wants to see his children attend school in person, safely.
Although Eddie said his “parents made (him) get the shot,” he is excited to see his friends “without a mask,” and to attend a Boston Celtics game, something his parents previously deemed too dangerous.
“I was really nervous (for the shot), but it makes me more safe,” he said. “Now I don’t have to wear this mask so much.”
Although Eddie’s vaccination won’t significantly affect their day-to-day lives, it will allow Martinez to “not worry as much” about his children’s health, especially when they go to school. While most schools still require masks, he said he is “not sure how well that’s enforced, or how much the kids really follow it. Once he’s fully vaccinated, I’ll stop worrying about him as much.”
“It is reassuring to know that kids can get vaccinated,” Chan said. “There’s a misconception that COVID does not cause bad disease in children. While it does cause less severe disease outcomes compared to older adults, kids have (died) and are dying from it.”
“I would strongly encourage all parents to get their children vaccinated,” he added. “It’s going to greatly reduce transmission in that age category.”
Although businesses have already largely reopened and are operating at near pre-pandemic levels, it will be safer for fully vaccinated children to engage in activities such as dining indoors and visiting friends, although all vaccinated individuals should still consider wearing a mask in crowded settings as long as the spread of COVID remains high, Chan said.
Chan added that the side effects of the vaccine, including headache and fatigue, are largely the same as those in adults. He said that they are to be expected, and are not a reason to worry about the vaccine’s safety.
“As a parent myself, I am always concerned about the health of my children,” Chan said. “My 10-year-old is being vaccinated today. I believe that the vaccine is safe, and that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.”