EVERETT — Kid-sized COVID-19 vaccines have gotten the final OK in Washington.
For Snohomish County, the timing could be critical as case rates continue to rise, spurred by schoolchildren contracting the virus.
After receiving federal approval, the Western States Scientific Safety Advisory Group gave the final thumbs-up Wednesday morning.
“Parents can breathe a sigh of relief that their younger kids can now be vaccinated against the deadly COVID-19 virus,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement.
The shots approved for children aged 5 to 11 are about one-third of the dose given to older kids and adults.
The Department of Health’s vaccine locator website has been updated with a “Pfizer-BioNTech Pediatric” option.
Supply will likely be limited at first, just like it was last year with the rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccines. This week, Snohomish County’s chief health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said parents should be patient as it will be “mathematically impossible” for all local kids to get their dose within the first week of distribution.
Parents should turn to pediatric clinics and pharmacies to get youngsters vaccinated. The state Department of Health said families may need to reach out to more than one provider to find an appointment.
Some schools are also looking to partner with providers for on-site clinics, although that might take longer. Everett, Marysville and Lake Stevens school districts all said they’re still working to organize those.
Providence’s Monroe and Mill Creek clinics will also be administering the shots.
In Snohomish County, kids won’t be able to get vaccinated at drive-thru clinics.
The setting isn’t “medically appropriate” for kids who are more likely to squirm and often require “more tender love and care,” Spitters said.
“There is a lot of chaos involved with younger kids, and if you have that going on in a string of drive-thrus, it’s really going to cause bottlenecks,” he said.
In a letter to governors, the Western States Scientific Safety Advisory Group noted the vaccine is more than 90% effective, and that reactions to the doses were mild in clinical trials and similar to those seen with other childhood vaccines.
The news means about 680,000 Washington kids can finally get protected against the virus after 20 months of living through a pandemic. The vaccines could help schools expend less energy on contact tracing and quarantine procedures, and more on education.
From Aug. 1 to Sept. 30, at least 189 COVID-19 outbreaks occured in Washington schools, according to the Department of Health. The majority of those were in grade schools.
Infections in school-aged kids contributed to an increase in Snohomish County’s COVID case rate for the second week in a row, officials reported Tuesday.
Ryan Bennett, a parent in the Mukilteo School District, said he already pre-registered his 5-year-old daughter to get the vaccine. She’s enrolled in an in-person pre-K and will be getting the shot next week at UW Medicine.
“We still have a 2-year-old that won’t be able to be vaccinated for some time,” Bennett told The Daily Herald. “We believe the best protection we can give her is to have as many vaccinated adults and kids around her until she is eligible.”
Still, many parents are hesitant to get their child vaccinated.
While kids are contracting the virus in Snohomish County, only one minor has been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the last month. Younger patients in general appear to be less likely to get severely ill from the disease.
That could make it tempting to dismiss the need to vaccinate young kids, said Dr. Mary Fairchok, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Tacoma.
At a Washington State Hospital Association briefing earlier this week, Fairchok said the virus is still killing young people. At some points through the pandemic, COVID rose to a top-10 leading cause of death for young children.
“Kids at this age are not supposed to die,” she said. “As long as there’s tinder for the fire — meaning unvaccinated individuals who can get infected — we’re not going to get on top of it.”
Exactly how fast 5 to 11 year olds will get vaccinated is yet to be seen.
“I think we’re all familiar with a lot of tragic cases of when vaccines were available to adults and people hesitated and they got very sick or died while they were still trying to wait and see,” said Swedish pediatrician Dr. John Hawes. “And I don’t want us to do that with children.”