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Eager parents rush to get kids pediatric COVID-19 vaccines

| November 5, 2021 7:00 AM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — In the hours after the COVID-19 vaccine was formally approved for use in younger children Tuesday, social media pages lit up with eager parents seeking appointments for their grade-schoolers.

So on Wednesday morning, it didn't take long for some parents in the Boise region to figure out that a couple of health care providers were already accepting appointments.

"My kids are scheduled for Walgreens on Saturday," one parent wrote on a Facebook page for local parents of school children.

"Primary Health Pediatrics is taking walk ins starting today!" another parent replied.

Primary Health Group CEO Dr. David Peterman said traffic to his company's website picked up early Wednesday morning from parents seeking pediatric COVID-19 vaccines. By late morning — a few hours before Primary Health Group officially announced it was offering the vaccines — the website was seeing three times the number of visits as normal, and clinics were getting walk-in visits from parents and children looking for the shot.

"I'm not sure exactly how parents found out, through word-of-mouth or on Facebook, but we've already given many vaccines this morning and have many appointments scheduled," Peterman said. "That's very exciting, to see that there is a group of parents that are very anxious to get their children vaccinated. It's great."

Primary Health Group has 21 family medicine and urgent care clinics in southwestern Idaho. The quick vaccine rollout at some of the organization's clinics was possible because workers there spent the last several days training in preparation, Peterman said. The COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer approved for 5- to 11-year-old kids is a different dose and formulation than the version approved for older patients, using different syringes and with different storage requirements. The state sent out information on the vaccine's requirements to medical providers 10 days ago.

Since the pandemic began, more than 6 million children have been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S., with more than 20,000 of them requiring hospitalization, Peterman said. More than 600 U.S. children have died from coronavirus.

"We are incredibly fortunate to finally have a COVID vaccine for younger children to keep them safe, keep them in school, and to stop the spread of disease to others in their households and communities. Studies have shown the vaccine has very few serious side effects and is extremely effective and well-tolerated by young children," Peterman said. "I strongly recommend parents get their children vaccinated, and I encourage parents who have questions to speak with their pediatricians and family doctors, who have long been trusted sources of information."

Other health care providers are also notifying families that pediatric vaccines are available. Saint Alphonsus Pediatric Clinics said appointments can be made online starting Nov. 8 in Boise, Caldwell and Nampa.

It's too soon to tell how many Idaho residents in the newest group will get vaccinated. Roughly 55% of all eligible Idaho residents ages 12 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, but vaccination rates are much higher in older age groups and lower in younger age groups.

Only about 33% of 12- to 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated in Idaho, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The first federal distributions of the vaccine required big minimum orders, making it easier for large organizations like Primary Health Group to get early distributions. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is working on distributing vaccine to smaller health care providers, and shots in those locations will be available in coming days, officials said.

State health officials said they are expecting 57,000 initial doses of the pediatric vaccine, enough to cover 32.5% of the state's roughly 175,500 children ages 5 to 11.

"We are very pleased there is now an opportunity for Idaho's younger children to get the same protections against COVID-19 as their older peers and adults," Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Division of Public Health administrator, said in a prepared statement. "This comes in time to protect children for the holidays and make sure they can return to the classroom and daycare safely."