New COVID vaccine for children under 5 gives Indy day care centers hope

A girl holds her mother’s hand as she gets ready to receive her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine during a pediatric vaccine clinic at Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior High School in Detroit, Michigan,
Alana Anderson, 8, holds her moms hand as she gets ready to receive her first dose of the COVID vaccine last year in Detroit. Indianapolis day care and child care providers hope the new vaccines for children under 5, approved by the federal government in mid-June, will let them focus more on helping children develop and less on the virus. (Emily Elconin for Chalkbeat)

Many Indianapolis child care and day care providers are eager to spend a little less time worrying about COVID and more time helping children grow and develop, following federal approval last week of COVID vaccines for children between 6 months and 5 years old. 

After more than two years of navigating the pandemic much like their K-12 counterparts, directors of these facilities are hoping parents will take advantage of the new vaccines to protect their children and those around them. 

Those who run these facilities could still face tricky decisions about whether they should encourage or request that those who attend be vaccinated. 

The Indiana Department of Health said the new vaccines are now available in the state. Young children previously eligible for the vaccine have proven much less likely to be vaccinated than any other age group. In Indiana, only 21% of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated, roughly half the percentage of children ages 12 to 17 in the state who are fully vaccinated. 

Lisa Bowling, the co-director of Daystar Daycare in Indianapolis, said her center has experienced multiple COVID outbreaks this year. The center serves multiple classrooms of children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12 years. While no children became seriously ill, many classrooms had children test positive in January and May. 

“Some of our staff have gotten pretty sick,” Bowling said. “It really makes a difference now that we have the vaccine.”

Bowling said parents and staff have been diligent in maintaining COVID protocols when possible, but containing the spread of the virus can be difficult when many children cannot wear masks properly at a young age.

Bowling expects many of the children at her day care to be vaccinated shortly, as parents have been eager in the past — as is typical each time a new age group is eligible for vaccination. She said some children have even been vaccinated on their fifth birthday, as soon as they were eligible. Now, she said, she’s relieved they won’t have to wait as long.

“We were hoping that it would have been done sooner,” Bowling said about the new vaccines. “We’re very thankful that it’s now been approved.”

The state health department said parents should contact their health care provider or seek more information online, or by calling 211 for more information before going to a health care provider for a vaccine.

“As with every stage of vaccine rollout, we will see increased availability in the coming days as more doses arrive in the state,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the department’s chief medical officer, in a Tuesday press release.

The excitement among those who oversee day care and child care centers extends to their own families. Rosie’s Tiny Tots Daycare Ministry Director Alicia Grant said she is excited to have her 3-year-old daughter vaccinated. While she will not require any parents to vaccinate their children who go to Rosie’s Tiny Tots, she hopes to see other parents follow her example.

“My daughter is three and she still doesn’t know how to blow her nose,” Grant said. “So being vaccinated would help her fight off whatever the virus may be at the time.” 

Helen Rummel is a reporting intern for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Helen at hrummel@chalkbeat.org.

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