Children ages 5 to 11 can now get vaccinated against COVID, a major turning point in a school year already disrupted by the pandemic.
Doses are already available at many Michigan pharmacies and health departments. They will be available starting Monday from Detroit Health Department clinics for children, and Detroit schools will begin offering doses on Nov. 13.
The school year will inch closer to normal with each newly vaccinated child, said Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District. COVID outbreaks have caused classrooms to shut down in Detroit and statewide in recent weeks, obstructing efforts to help students recover from the academic and emotional effects of the pandemic.
Vaccinated children are unlikely to fall ill with COVID, and Vitti said they will not have to quarantine at home if they come into contact with a sick peer.
Sixty-eight thousand Detroiters ages 5 to 11 are eligible for the vaccine, which was recently deemed safe and effective by the Centers for Disease and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
The shot has the same active ingredients as the Pfizer vaccine that has been taken by more than 100 million Americans, but contains one-third the amount as the adult vaccine and is packaged with a smaller needle. Approval of a Moderna shot for young children is possible in coming weeks. Both vaccines require two shots given three weeks apart, with full immunity reached two weeks after the second dose.
City health officials are planning virtual public forums next week where doctors will answer questions from parents. Many Detroit parents are hesitant about the vaccine: A recent survey found that 59% of Detroit parents with children under age 12 are uncomfortable with their child receiving the shot.
The vaccine’s approval came as a relief to Carla Watson, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
Watson, a lifelong Detroiter, treats children who fall ill with COVID. She’s also the mother of a 5-year-old with health conditions that make COVID a particularly grave threat to his well-being.
“I am really looking forward to getting the vaccine for him,” she said, noting that vaccinated children are less likely to pass the virus to adults.
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“This vaccine is very safe, we know it’s very effective, and I’ve seen the severe effects” of COVID in children, she added. “I encourage everyone to get the vaccine.”
While young children are less likely than adults to fall seriously ill with COVID, complications of the disease can prove fatal in rare cases. Detroit officials announced plans to roll out the vaccine for younger children in a conference room named after Skylar Herbert, a Detroit 5-year-old who died from complications of COVID in the early weeks of the pandemic.
Even mild COVID cases in children can mean lost time in school and temporary isolation from family and friends.
The Biden administration has pushed for schools to distribute the vaccine. Doses will be available in the Detroit Public Schools Community District in the coming weeks, beginning on Nov. 13 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School and Randolph Career and Technical School.
Vitti said the district is working on a plan to vaccinate younger students in schools on weekends and occasionally during school days. A parent or legal guardian must accompany younger children to the vaccine appointment. Few working parents can attend vaccination appointments during the school day.
Another option for parents is the Detroit Health Department, which is offering child-specific vaccination sites starting Monday.
To prevent long waits, DHD is offering vaccines for children by appointment only. Nurses and clinicians at these appointments will have experience working with children. And more time will be allotted for the appointments than for adult vaccinations to allow families to interact with their nurses and feel more comfortable.
“We’re setting up a separate process to make it comfortable and reassuring for our kids,” said Mayor Mike Duggan, adding: “I don’t want … children in a waiting room sitting around with time to build up anxiety.”
The city is providing vaccinations for children ages 5 to 11 at the following locations:
- Detroit Health Department, 100 Mack Ave., from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, starting Nov. 8.
- Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers Rd., from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, starting Nov. 13.
To book an appointment with the city, call 313-230-0505.
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Walgreens, CVS, and various hospitals and health departments are also offering vaccine appointments for children.
Parents can ask Detroit doctors about the new vaccine during virtual forums Nov. 8 and Nov. 12 from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. More information is available on the Detroit Health Department Facebook page.
Janet Callahan is taking her 10-year-old daughter to get vaccinated on Monday. COVID poses a particular threat to Bethany Callahan, who has autism, cerebral palsy, and a respiratory issue that caused her to be put on a ventilator as a toddler.
“We have no desire to sit in the hospital again with a kid on a ventilator,” she said. “We have been waiting on pins and needles” for the vaccine.
Callahan’s family has seldom left home during the pandemic. Janet is home-schooling Bethany, who normally attends the Troy School District, through the end of this school year, but she says the vaccine is the first step back to in-person education and social interaction.
“And my dad is really excited to come for Thanksgiving,” she added.