This article first appeared in Kidsburgh.org, a media partner of NEXTpittsburgh that focuses on making Pittsburgh a better place to raise kids.
Jillian Edmunson is no stranger to camping out on a sidewalk all night to be the first in line for something she really wants. For her eighth-grade self, it was tickets to see NKOTB. Now, it’s the Covid-19 vaccine for her 10-year old son, Brendan.
Her family has been extremely cautious during the 18 months of the pandemic. A case of the flu triggered Kawasaki disease, and thus five heart aneurysms, for their fourth-grader several years ago. That viral reaction was similar to the multisystemic inflammatory syndrome that a small percentage of kids get from Covid-19. So his medical team is taking no chances.
It was a nine-hour scramble to get vaccine appointments for the older siblings, parents and grandparents in this Bellevue family. So when Brendan is finally eligible, the family will do whatever it takes. “I will probably cry once he’s fully vaccinated,” says Edmunson.
Will there be a mad dash for appointments once the vaccine is approved for kids under 12? Now that Pfizer has given data to the FDA on kids 5-11, the company says it may be requesting authorization for emergency use sometime in the next few weeks.
Pittsburghers remember the exhausting scramble to get vaccination appointments at the beginning of 2021 — constantly refreshing browsers, “hunting” for vaccine appointments for older relatives, or even driving hours for an open spot.
Will we be scrambling like that again?
What do Pittsburgh hospital systems say?
Al L’Altrelli, director of pharmacy operations for UPMC, and Dr. Joseph Aracri, chair of pediatrics for Allegheny Health Network, feel confident that kids will be able to get their shots fairly quickly, and cite several factors that allow them to make this assertion:
- There is enough vaccine supply now to keep up with the demand, which was not true when the initial adult vaccines became available last December.
- Both health systems have improved their scheduling systems and clinic procedures, which results in a more efficient process from start to finish.
- There are fewer people to vaccinate in this age group. Children make up only about 22% of the U.S. population, and 5- to 11-year-olds are a smaller fraction of that — about 22 million kids nationwide.
- Deep freezers are no longer needed. The vaccine can be stored in a typical medical refrigerator for 30 days once thawed, a huge improvement.
- Both hospital systems currently have the Pfizer vaccine available at their pediatric offices, so kids can get the shot from their own doctor. With a recent change in recommendations, it can even be given at the same time as a child’s flu shot.
- Community/school pop-up vaccine clinics and community outreach will continue to be a priority as well.
Parents have questions, and local doctors understand
As a pediatrician, Dr. Aracri understands the concern and hesitancy some parents have.
He says doctors are looking closely at all data to make sure the pros outweigh the cons for the vaccine in young children. His practitioners would never give a vaccine that they don’t have full confidence in.
“We are vaccinating the kids more to help the community, to help their families, and as well as protect them as individuals. When we got the elderly and most vulnerable vaccinated first, it was truly to save their individual lives,” he says. “This is to manage community spread, and to make sure, the most important thing, that kids are in school. These kids need to go back to life. If you look at the greatest toll to people, other than the elderly, it’s the kids. The kids have borne the brunt for something that doesn’t affect them.”