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COVID-19 vaccinations for 5-to-11-year-olds begin in Coconino County

Kid Vaccinations COVID-19 AP
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Kidney transplant patient Santiago Esparza, 8, of Alexandrian, Va., is vaccinated by nurse Kelly Vanderwende, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, at Children's National Hospital in Washington. The U.S. enters a new phase Wednesday in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with shots now available to millions of elementary-age children in what health officials hailed as a major breakthrough after more than 18 months of illness, hospitalizations, deaths and disrupted education.

Millions of children nationwide between the ages of 5 and 11 are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine after approval this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows a low-dose shot is more than 90 percent effective against the virus for that age group. Vaccinations begin today in Coconino County.

The county will set up an indoor clinic at the Flagstaff Mall beginning Friday. Vaccinations for children between ages 5 and 11 will be available from 2 to 5 p.m. Fridays and Wednesdays and a guardian must accompany them. Adult vaccinations will also be available at the site from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays and Wednesdays. No appointments will be available and doses will be administered on a first come, first served basis. In addition, pharmacies and health care providers have been approved to administer the vaccine to children.

Coconino County Health and Human Services Director Kim Musselman spoke with KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius about the rollout.

Ryan Heinsius: Could opening up vaccinations to this 5-to-11 age group help achieve that elusive heard immunity and really turn the corner on the pandemic?

Kim Musselman: We are certainly hoping that this is yet another step in helping us see our way out of this pandemic. Certainly getting our young kids vaccinated is incredibly important in not only protecting our kids but continuing to protect our most vulnerable adults. And so we are very hopeful that this is the next and necessary step so that we can finally see our way out of this. It’s been a long haul. People are getting tired and so we want to make sure that we’re doing what we need to get the kids vaccinated and get to whatever level of herd immunity is going to need to be in place so that we can get out of pandemic-level response.

RH: What do you say to those parents who may be a little skeptical of giving their kids these shots?

KM: You know what I will say is I actually sat and listened to the immunization committee that reviewed the FDA approval and then gave the CDC approval for the pediatric vaccines, and it was really great to listen to those professionals. They are incredibly talented, well-known pediatric doctors that were sitting on that committee, and to listen to them talk about how important it is prevent even one childhood – certainly even one childhood death – but also other severe hospitalizations and illnesses, and how many of them sat on that panel speaking about having their own children be vaccinated and that they will not hesitate to do that. And that is really what I hope our parents who are hesitant recognize that the medical professionals who reviewed this and the rigorous studies that the vaccine trials were under, that they can be confident in knowing that the doctors themselves who approved this and made the recommendation are vaccinating their own children and grandchildren as quickly as it was approved.

RH: Some parents may be saying to themselves, “Well COVID isn’t typically that severe in kids so getting them vaccinated may not be necessary.” What’s your response to that?

KM: Certainly we know that fewer children have been infected with COVID-19 compared adults, but children can still absolutely be infected with the virus and they can get sick, in fact very sick from the virus. And lastly, and probably as concerning as all of the other things is their ability to then spread the disease to others. So, I think that that’s really the crux of understanding why it is important for kids to get vaccinated. And we do that with so many other diseases and you get those vaccinations as young children, and really COVID is turning out to be no different with that regard. We want to prevent the kids from getting it and then also prevent further spread.

RH: Many public and charter schools have mask mandates in place. Could expanded vaccinations to this age group allow a relaxation of those restrictions in the coming months?

KM: I absolutely see that as what it’s going to take so that we can get to that level. The mask mandates have been incredibly helpful in mitigating the spread of the virus especially in our young kids and in the school settings. The more kids we can get vaccinated and the sooner we can do that, the sooner we’re going to be out of the high and substantial transmission, and also be able to have a safe environment for our kids because there will be a large number of them vaccinated, and hopefully yes, being able to relax those mitigation measures because we have less community transmission and spread.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.