Vaccine eligibility expands: Children ages 5-11 now in line for Covid-19 shot

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 Wantagh and Seaford adults — and now children — are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot last month.

The vaccine’s approval for children ages 5 through 11 was followed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s endorsement last week.

The vaccine is successful in protecting against Covid-19: It was found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing the virus in children in that age group, according to data from the FDA. Over 28 million children in the U.S. are now eligible for the shot.

“I am absolutely recommending vaccination for everyone who is eligible,” said Dr. Adina Geller, a pediatrician at ProKids Pediatrics, a division of Allied Physicians Group in Levittown. “The vaccine is safe and effective in children and adults. It is highly protective against the virus, particularly severe illness, hospitalization and death.”

“As a mom,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a press release, “I encourage parents with questions to talk to their pediatrician, school nurse or local pharmacist to learn more about the vaccine and the importance of getting their children vaccinated.”

Some community members, however, have expressed discomfort with the idea of vaccinating their children. Some are members of the Facebook group Wantagh Parental Choice, which has grown to 670 members since its creation in July.

Tricia Stasi, a Wantagh resident and a co-administrator of the group, said she was “horrified” at the CDC’s support for the vaccine in children. “There is no more ‘individual’ anymore, there is a blanket statement of ‘all,’” Stasi, who has two children in the school district, wrote in an emailed statement. “We have lost the ability to speak to our doctors on an individual basis. My children are healthy, have traveled, have been around people, and I can bet no one cares more for their well-being than I do.”

Don Haines, a Wantagh-based real estate agent and a member of Wantagh Parental Choice, said the most important issue for his family is freedom of choice. “We have no problem with anyone who chooses to vaccinate their children, but we do not want to vaccinate ours yet,” Haines said. “There’s not enough data. … We will not be a part of this testing phase.”

Stasi added that no one was concerned with her children’s well-being during flu season, though they had contracted the common cold multiple times. “To require my young children to get a vaccine for something … survivable and there is little data to prove they must have this vaccine is scary,” she said.

Geller said that while it’s more common for older people to become severely ill with Covid-19, children can also experience severe illness from the virus. “We would like very much to protect them,” Geller said.

Jessica Kofod, a sophomore nursing student at Molloy College in Rockville Centre and a Seaford High School alumna, said the pediatric and adult Covid-19 vaccine remains critical. “I think it’s important for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated in order to create herd immunity,” she said. “Hopefully, with more people vaccinated, we are moving toward the end of the pandemic.”

During a six-week period from late June to mid-August, Covid-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased fivefold, according to a September study in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a weekly digest published by the CDC. The hospitalization spike coincided with the increased circulation of the Delta variant of the virus.

A new bill in the State Assembly, A8378, which is currently under review in the State Senate, would mandate immunization for attendance at all public and private schools. If approved, the bill would also authorize the state health commissioner to develop and supervise the rollout of a school vaccination program.

“A vaccine mandate is the precipice of losing our parental rights when it comes to the well-being of our children,” Stasi said. “Our group … has members on both sides of the fence, but we are working together to push for choice. We recognize that families make their own decisions. We are far from giving up.”

In an emailed statement, Wantagh Schools Superintendent John McNamara said the district encourages parents to consult with their pediatrician or health care provider when making decisions about Covid-19 vaccinations.

Also in an emailed statement, Seaford Superintendent Dr. Adele Pecora said the Seaford School District recommends that parents speak with their child’s pediatrician about all medical decisions.

Geller, who grew up in Plainview, is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. To parents who are skeptical, she said: “The first thing I would say is to talk to your child’s pediatrician. That’s what they’re there for: to explain and answer any questions or concerns you might have. The other thing is that data and studies for the Covid-19 vaccine in children were certainly expansive enough to detect any problems, and there really was not anything more than mild side effects, especially in younger children.”

According to the FDA, in clinical trials, vaccine side effects were mild, and similar to those seen in adults and with other vaccines recommended for children. The most common side effect was a sore arm.

The 10-microgram Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children is administered in two doses, three weeks apart. Those 12 and older receive a 30-micrograms shot.

The distribution of pediatric vaccinations was expected to increase this week. Vaccines are available at thousands of pediatric health care provider offices and pharmacies, including the Town of Hempstead’s Vaxmobile, operated by Mount Sinai South Nassau. Individuals seeking to make an appointment can call (516) 377-5333 or apply online.

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