Gainesville parents say COVID-19 pediatric vaccine is 'a huge sigh of relief'
Five-year-old Parker Kay was among the first young children to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine in Alachua County last Sunday.
Though nervous about pain from the shot, his mother, Kristin Kay, said, Parker was excited to get the vaccine at Walgreens over the weekend. He was one of a steady stream of kids going in and out of the pharmacy on Sunday. After getting the jab, Parker told her it did not hurt and that he could not wait for the second dose.
"He kind of knows it's the first step towards going back to normal, even though he's only five," Kay said. "Maybe he’s a little more understanding because of what I went through."
Kay, a 32-year-old nurse practitioner, fell seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 in December 2020 before she was able to be vaccinated. She spent over 100 days battling the disease and complications at North Florida Regional Medical Center.
After being released and recovering, Kay chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. And as soon as she learned it was approved for children like Parker, she hurried online to book the earliest available appointment she could find with a local pharmacy.
"I think it’s definitely a huge sigh of relief, you know, because we don’t have to worry as much," the mother and survivor said. She added that Parker experienced no side effects from his first dose.
Kay's husband and Parker's father, Steven Kay, added, "I'm excited that that young children can now get vaccinated because it'll bring us as a community, as a country, a state that much closer to a herd immunity and that much closer to returning to normal."
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The Pfizer vaccine was approved Nov. 2 for young children ages 5-11 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Food and Drug Administration authorized it Oct. 29, expanding the vaccine recommendation to about 28 million children in the nation.
The pediatric vaccine vials contain one-third the dose level as the teen and adult equivalent, according to UF Health spokesman Ken Garcia. They are a different color, and adult doses cannot be diluted to make pediatric ones.
Children are recommended to get two of the Pfizer shots three weeks apart, according to the CDC guidance.
Pharmacies had the doses first
Like the Kays, a flood of parents rushed last week to book pediatric vaccine appointments at national chain pharmacies around town for their young kids.
Local CVS pharmacies, as of Wednesday afternoon, did not have available pediatric vaccine appointments until Nov. 24, according to the company's online portal. Walgreens' Gainesville pharmacies were also full through the end of the week, according to its online scheduling service.
One mother, Emi Melker, took her 6-year-old daughter, Max, to Walgreens on Monday for her first of two COVID-19 shots. They made a fun trip out of it, she said, grabbing lunch and a Starbucks cake pop as a reward. Max's favorite flavor is birthday cake.
Melker said she and her husband, Scott, told Max that getting the vaccine was like getting super powers. Their daughter was so excited about it, she said, and wanted to tell all her school friends, many of whom are also getting the vaccine this week.
"Every child gets a little nervous when they have to think about getting the shot," Melker said, but, "she is happy to do it ... She’s old enough to understand what she’s been living through."
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Because of the pandemic, Max was pulled out of gymnastics and face-to-face piano lessons, her mother said, tearing up. But now, she is looking forward to resuming many of her favorite activities.
Melker also has a 2-year-old son, Miles, who is too young to get the COVID-19 vaccine. To protect him, the family is still very cautious and continues to wear face masks and avoid unnecessary outings, she said.
"Unfortunately, he's not eligible yet," she said, "but as soon as it becomes available, we will get him vaccinated as well."
Sarah Rockwell, another Gainesville mother, signed both her children up for the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday and Wednesday at CVS.
Devin, 11, is in the sixth grade, and Charlotte, 8, is in the second grade. Charlotte has several medical diagnoses that put her at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, Rockwell said. She has a doctoral degree in special education and has homeschooled them throughout the pandemic.
"I think they’re pretty excited about it but also nervous," Rockwell said Monday, before either had received their first dose. "Nobody likes getting a shot, especially kids."
Charlotte is particularly happy about getting vaccinated and being able to socialize more, her mother said. And for her parents, the added protection is a big relief.
"For me it’s a huge weight off my shoulders," Rockwell said. "I don't expect the vaccine to be perfect. I don't expect our family to never get sick. But I am very excited that if we do get COVID once the kids are vaccinated, the likelihood of any of us having any long term health impacts or being hospitalized or dying drops to near zero."
But pharmacies are not the only option
Instead of turning to pharmacies, some parents, like 43-year-old Tina Days, a single mother to three girls in Gainesville, are eagerly awaiting word from their local pediatrician or children's schools to find out when and where the new pediatric vaccine doses will be available.
Days' middle child, 11-year-old Jasmine Days, is now eligible for the shots. Her eldest daughter, 13-year-old Camyrn Days, was previously vaccinated at Abraham Lincoln Middle School, while her youngest, 7-month-old Shelby Palmer, is not old enough to receive any of the available COVID-19 vaccines.
"Whichever comes first," UF Health Shands or Howard Bishop Middle School, the mother said, "is how [Jasmine] is going to get it."
Days said Jasmine is ready to get the vaccine after two years of wearing a face mask and having a couple COVID-19 scares in her family. Once she is vaccinated, Days said, the extra protection will be a huge relief.
"That's my only hope ... If they get vaccinated, if they get [COVID-19], it won't be as bad, and they probably won't end up in the hospital," the mother said. "As a single parent, I just can't have children in the hospital sick."
Days said while many parents are rushing to get the doses, others may hesitate and wait to see how they affect people before deciding to get their children vaccinated. She said she worries that those who are hesitant will celebrate the upcoming winter holidays unvaccinated, become infected and then return to school and spread the virus.
Her concern is especially strong for families that choose not to wear masks, Days said.
"If you're going to opt out of masks, you need to opt in [to] the vaccine," she said. "Please parents, protect other kids."
More doses coming soon
Paul Myers, administrator of the Alachua County Health Department, told The Sun in an email Wednesday that the department ordered 5,000 pediatric vaccine doses last week and already has the first 1,000.
"We will begin distributing those to local pediatric practices this week," he wrote. "We anticipate receiving most of the order later this week."
Myers said the health department is building a tentative vaccination schedule with local schools beginning Dec. 7. The lag there behind other city and county providers is because thousands of consent forms need to be printed, distributed to parents and signed and returned to the department, he said.
Garcia, UF Health spokesman, also emailed The Sun Wednesday and stated that UF Health has placed its own order for pediatric COVID-19 vaccine doses and expected it to arrive in the "next couple of days."
"Right now, we are planning to begin providing the doses next week," he wrote. "They will be available as walk-ins at our pharmacies and by appointment within our pediatric clinics."