One by one, as little kids got their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine Saturday at Paint Branch High School, there were celebrations. After a shot was administered, nurses nearby would clap and the child would pick up a stuffed animal or other reward.
In mid-June, the Food and Drug Administration approved COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as six months. The county began administering vaccines for children in that age group about a week after the approval.
Paint Branch in Silver Spring was one of three county schools to hold a vaccination clinic on Saturday as part of a partnership between Montgomery County Public Schools and the county’s Department of Health and Human Services. The others were held at Clarksburg High and Shady Grove Middle schools. Clinics are also scheduled for Sunday at Paint Branch, Gaithersburg Middle and Montgomery Blair High schools.
Some of the children receiving the vaccine were nervous on Saturday, and a few cried despite positive encouragement from the parents. But their hesitance turned to joy after the shot was finished and they heard a ‘yay’ from a nurse, or those nearby clapped. At one table, families and their children excitedly pored over a variety of stuffed animals, bookmarks and educational coloring books about coronavirus.
Moments after Chris Irby’s daughter Ava got her shot, the Olney dad said he had more peace of mind.
Asked how his daughter responded to the shot, Irby said “some shots are better than others. Today wasn’t the best one.” But Irby said the vaccine is important because it allows them to go out in public with less anxiety.
“When we were in daycare, she didn’t have the vaccine because she was too young, so we were a little on edge and protective in terms of who we were around and the activities that we as adults did, just to ensure that she wouldn’t be affected by COVID,” he said.
Holly Goyer, of Bethesda, said she was excited that her two sons, ages 2 and 4, were getting their shots on Saturday.
“My husband was working out here today, and so we dropped him off, and then we went on a little hike, and we came here and got this done,” she said.
James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, told Bethesda Beat during Saturday’s event that this is the second weekend MCPS and the health department have hosted the vaccination clinics for children under 5. He said 1,200 shots were administered to children in that age range last weekend.
As of Saturday morning, 4,000 out of about 50,000 children in the county under age 5 (8%) had received a shot, Bridgers said.
“That’s over two weeks. It’s amazing what our clinics have done,” he said.
MCPS Medical Officer Patricia Kapunan said on Saturday that the schools where the vaccine clinics are held are chosen to ensure equitable access for families.
“One thing that was taken into consideration when choosing these sites are proximity to early intervention and youth programs for young children,” she said. “So I think when we chose which schools, it was very much with this specific population in mind, and with an idea toward health equity, and making sure the vaccine was available to the population that might have the most barriers.”
Kapunan said that that so far her understanding is that there hasn’t been quite as much of a rush for families of children under 5 to get vaccinated as there was for previous age groups.
“What I’m hearing from my colleagues out in the community are that parents are taking a little bit more time to make this decision and be ready for their kids,” she said. “So I think overall it’s gonna be kind of a slower uptake, but from what we saw last week people are really excited and ready.”
Families with young children have had to wait about a year and a half after vaccines were first rolled out to adult populations.
Tali Elitzur, of Forest Glen, on Saturday took her son, who is one and a half, and daughter, who is almost 4, to the Paint Branch clinic to get vaccinated.
“We’re so excited and so relieved,” she said. “We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org