More than 2,000 Chicago children under 5 got first dose of COVID vaccine in first week

A young child being held by her mother receives a vaccine from a health care professional.
COVID vaccines for children under 5 are finally available. In the first week, more than 2,000 Chicagoans have gotten shots. (David Ryder / Getty Images)

This story has been updated.

More than 2,000 Chicago children under 5 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, marking another turning point in the pandemic as preschoolers and infants are now eligible to be inoculated. 

Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, shared figures on Tuesday for children under 5 who received their first dose after the vaccine was rolled out last week. Before Arwady got to the numbers, she shared a photo of her youngest nephew getting his first shot. 

“He was the most interested in which type of Band-Aid he would be getting and, you know, said that as soon as he had the Band-Aid, it didn’t hurt anymore,” Arwady said. 

Chicago’s Department of Public Health also announced a plan Tuesday to begin reopening  vaccination clinics at Chicago City Colleges through September to offer shots to people of all ages during the next few months.

The city is partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield for additional family vaccination clinics in Morgan Park, South Lawndale, and Pullman.

“We would like nothing more than for you to come in as a family and get the little one vaccinated,” Arwady said. 

At least 2,097 children under 5 in Chicago received their first dose last week, Arwady said. Lurie Children’s Hospital, Swedish Covenant, Weissbluth Pediatrics, and Children’s Healthcare Association were among the top administrators of the vaccine for that age group, with about 30% of children under 5 receiving vaccines at pharmacies, she said.

There are more than 150,000 children under 5 in the city, according to the U.S. Census.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the vaccine for children under 5 earlier this month. That age group is the last to be eligible for a COVID vaccine. 

Moderna’s vaccine for children 6 months to 4 years old is administered in two doses four weeks apart, while the Pfizer vaccine for the youngest children is administered in three doses over the course of 11 weeks. 

Across the country, the vaccination numbers for children have stagnated, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ analysis of CDC data

In Chicago, 72.6% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 47.4% of 5- to 11-year-olds have completed a COVID vaccine series. About 21.3% of 12- to-17-year-olds and 3.7% of 5- to 11-year-olds have also received boosters, according to city data. 

Vaccination rates vary widely across Chicago Public Schools. Black students are far less likely to be vaccinated than their Latino counterparts. As of early May, majority Black elementary and high schools had an average vaccination rate of 26.7%, compared to majority Latino elementary and high schools, which averaged about 54%, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

At Lurie Children’s Hospital, Dr. Larry Kociolek said it has had a “successful” early rollout of the pediatric vaccine. He estimated the hospital’s vaccination clinic has given out about 1,200 COVID shots to children under 5 since last Tuesday.

Lurie Children’s Hospital has been administering vaccines to children since the initial authorization in late 2020 when 16-year-olds were included in the emergency authorization for the COVID vaccine developed by Pfizer. 

“Currently, we are offering vaccines at the main hospital as well as a few of their ambulatory sites that allows us to increase the efficiency and volume of vaccines we can give,” Kociolek said.

The hospital is continuing to identify how it can expand vaccine access, Kociolek noted. 

Following the initial rollout, the hospital will transition administration of the vaccine from clinics to primary care doctors in the coming months, Kociolek said.

Mauricio Peña is a reporter for Chalkbeat Chicago, covering K-12 schools. Contact Mauricio at mpena@chalkbeat.org.

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