Health departments start taking COVID-19 vaccine appointments for kids

COVID-19 Vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — West Michigan health departments are ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines to children ages 5 to 11 after federal officials on Tuesday cleared the way for the doses to be administered.

The Kent County Health Department said Wednesday that it has doses for children — which are a third the size of doses for adults — and child-sized needles on hand. County immunization supervisor Mary Wisinski said the health department had 2,400 doses for children as of Wednesday; it was still deciding how many of those doses would go to local health providers like pediatrician’s offices and how many would stay with the county for its clinics.

Kent County’s first appointment for a child between age 5 and 11 is Friday. The county is also expanding hours at all three of its clinics on Tuesday, Nov. 9 and Nov. 16 from 8 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. to facilitate more appointments. You can make an appointment for your kid by calling 616.632.7200.

In Kalamazoo County, the health department says it will start vaccinating kids as young as 5 starting with a clinic from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at 311 E. Alcott Street. You must schedule an appointment for that clinic, which you can do online or by calling 269.373.5200 during regular business hours. Vaccinations during regular clinic hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday will begin next week; you must schedule an appointment.

The Allegan County Health Department said it expects its shipment of pediatric vaccine doses to come in by Monday, after which it will start vaccinating kids. Parents should schedule an appointment online, but some walk-in options may be available at upcoming clinics.

Several pediatric offices in West Michigan told News 8 Wednesday they were still waiting to hear from health department about when they would get doses and how many, though at least one ordered its own doses and was prepared to give shots to its patients starting Thursday.

Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health says it has its own doses on hand and expects to finalize its distribution plan in the coming days. It has not yet set a firm date for when shots will be available, but it will probably be next week.

“We will be rolling out our pediatric vaccines at over 60 locations across Spectrum Health, primarily at our family practice offices, our pediatrics and adolescents offices, as well as at our convenient care walk-in locations, our urgent care locations and our drive-thru location at 1300 Michigan,” Spectrum Health Chief Operating Officer Brian Brasser said.

But he went on to note that “there’s not ample supply.”

“This is not just drawing up smaller doses, but there will actually be specific supply for this age group. And while the distribution has begun, it’s begun in small increments,” Brasser noted.

So far, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for kids age 5 to 11. Kids will need two doses three weeks apart. Kids can expect many of the same side effects as adult, like pain at the injection site, fatigue and mild fever. If you have questions about the vaccine, you should take them to your primary care doctor.

Kids have been hit hard during Michigan’s current COVID-19 surge, with many outbreaks associated with schools and cases among school-aged children rising the fastest since school started in the fall, state data shows.

Pediatric hospitalizations have been on the rise since August and more than half of the kids who have ended up in the hospital don’t have underlying health conditions, the data shows. Kids who contract COVID-19 also face the risk of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children — or MIS-C — which can be deadly.

“While most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, and some have no symptoms at all, there’s no way to know how severe an individual case will be,” warned Michigan’s chief medical executive, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, during a virtual press conference with other health officials and doctors Wednesday morning. “The vaccine is more than 90% effective at protecting children from serious illness or hospitalization, similar to the level of protection it provides in adults.”

Health officials have also reminded parents that even if their kids don’t get sick, they can spread the virus to other vulnerable populations, like their grandparents.

“The decision to authorize this Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds is another reason for hope. Yesterday’s decision will help move us forward toward safer classrooms, family gatherings, participation in sports, celebrations and all kinds of other milestones,” Bagdasarian said.

The federal approval of the vaccine for kids has started a countdown clock for counties that tied it to mask mandates for schools. Kalamazoo County says its mask order will be rescinded Dec. 17 — though county, state and federal health officials will continue to recommend masks indoors in schools and districts may choose to maintain their own mask requirements.

Adults who haven’t yet been vaccinated can still get the shots — there is plenty of supply for adults and the shots are free. The state has set a goal to vaccinate 70% of its population age 16 and up. As of Tuesday, 69.3% of that population had received at least one dose.

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