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Ramping Up Vaccinations for Younger Kids

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 08:55
Dr. Gail Schonfeld of East End Pediatrics talking to volunteers at an East Hampton Town vaccination clinic for adults in March; her practice will run a clinic for its pediatric patients on Saturday.
Durell Godfrey

Now that children 5 to 11 are eligible to receive Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine — the first that has been approved for pediatric administration in the United States — medical professionals and government officials here and across Long Island are quickly putting plans in place to meet families' needs.

Those needs are different from adults' and older children's needs, pediatric experts say, because children are oftentimes frightened of getting their shots.

"I think that trying to do this for children is more difficult than for adults who are ready and willing," Dr. Gail Schonfeld of East End Pediatrics in East Hampton said this week. "I see how children respond to shots. Trying to say why it's a good thing to be immune is not going to work with a 5-year-old."

Large medical facilities with open floor plans don't offer the privacy that children need, she said. That's why, for her first clinic for 5 to 11-year-olds, Dr. Schonfeld has nine separate treatment rooms set aside, and she has hired extra staff. The four-hour clinic is Saturday, but is only open only to existing patients of her practice, and all 300 doses are already spoken for.

She wishes she could do more. Unlike the early days when vaccines were first available, doses aren't hard to obtain; it's finding enough medical staff that's the issue.

"In general, we have been having a very difficult time meeting the needs of our patients in the last six to 12 months," Dr. Schonfeld said. "We're behind on checkups, and we're not taking in new patients for the first time. It's not something I'm happy about."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the Pfizer vaccine final clearance for the 5-to-11 age group on Nov. 2, following the emergency-use authorization that the federal Food and Drug Administration granted last month.

On Tuesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced that a vaccine site dedicated to children ages 5 to 17 has been established at the H. Lee Dennison county center, 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge -- some 60 miles from East Hampton, and about an hour-and-a-half drive in good traffic conditions.

"As a father, I am encouraging all parents who may have questions to talk with their pediatrician or a trusted health care provider about the importance of getting their children vaccinated," Mr. Bellone said in a statement. "This vaccine saves lives and it could save the life of your child."

Those who wish to set up appointments through Suffolk can call 311 or visit suffolkcountyny.gov/vaccine. The clinic is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

But not everyone can make that drive to Hauppauge. Accessibility was the primary reason that the East Hampton School District hosted a vaccine clinic in September for kids ages 12 and up. In consultation with its chief medical officer, Dr. Harriet Hellman, and Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, the district is considering offering another.

"We are continuing to promote vaccinations for all," Adam Fine, the East Hampton district superintendent, said this week.

Not all school officials are comfortable with urging kids to get Pfizer shots. Among families in some regions — and some parts of Long Island — vaccination has become a hot-button political issue.

"Vaccination is a personal choice at this time," Jeff Nichols, the Sag Harbor School District superintendent, said by email yesterday. "It is important that the school district provide accurate data/information to the school community so that all members can make an informed decision."

In the Montauk School District, Jack Perna, the superintendent and principal, said that "this is a tough decision for many and they need to make that with their family doctors, not me."

As to what the impact will be in classrooms, cafeterias, and hallways, it's a game of wait-and-see.

"Considering what we have seen at the middle school and high school, I am optimistic that it will have a positive impact," Mr. Fine said.

"The science clearly indicates that as vaccination rates increase, infection rates decrease," Mr. Nichols said. "As infection rates decrease, a measured return to pre-Covid protocols can transpire. . . . I think it is too soon to predict what safety protocols will be eliminated or altered. The school district will continue to reference the guidance of the C.D.C., New York State Department of Health, and the Suffolk County Department of Health moving forward."

Dr. Sharon Nachman, a pediatric infectious disease expert with the Stony Brook Medicine health care system, said she expects the outcome to be profound.

"I think there are a lot of things it will impact. Any kid who does get a vaccine no longer has to be quarantined when they are exposed to Covid," she said. "That's great news for our kids in school. . . . I think it will help them be safe when they are going to intramural activities, be it with kids in a different class or a different school. They are protected, and that is really important for families as well. I think it's going to be really important around the holidays for family get-togethers, knowing that grandparents aren't going to get Covid from their grandchildren."

Stony Brook Children's Hospital, online at stonybrookchildrens.org, is offering vaccines, as are some national pharmacies like CVS. The C.D.C. has a dedicated website, vaccines.gov, where parents can search for locations.

Dr. Nachman urged families to get their kids vaccinated. "I think the important part is to not get sucked into the myths, and to discuss your concerns with your child's doctor," she said. "Reading about myths doesn't make them true. They are still myths. Be cautious and ask your child's physician the questions that you may have."

 


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