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URBANA — Plans are underway in Champaign County to provide COVID-19 shots to younger kids at their schools and other locations as soon as federal health authorities give the go-ahead.

Final approval for use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for kids ages 5-11 is expected to come within weeks, pending an emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and recommendations from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel set to meet Nov. 2-3.

“We are coordinating with the large school districts for clinics,” said Awais Vaid, deputy administrator of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. “We will also offer evening and weekend clinics at the I Hotel.”

Pharmacies will also be able to provide vaccinations for kids in this age group, he said, and it may also be available in pediatricians’ offices.

Dr. David Chan, a Carle pediatric cardiologist, predicted the response from parents for getting younger children vaccinated will be good, despite continued vaccine resistance on the part of some adults.

Kids are used to getting vaccinated, he said, but it’s not too soon for parents to discuss COVID-19 vaccine concerns with their children’s pediatricians.

“I think we’re going to get a pretty good uptake, but it’s not going to be as high as we want,” said Chan, who also serves as Carle’s associate chief medical officer.

His own recommendation is that all kids get vaccinated, and it’s especially important not to hesitate for kids who have other underlying medical conditions, he said.

In Champaign County, 2,229 children up to age 10 have been infected with COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

And since the coming of the more virulent delta variant this past summer, Chan said there’s been a concerning uptick in the number of infected children across the country who have become ill enough to be hospitalized.

The chance of hospitalization will be substantially lower for vaccinated kids, he said.

Chan cited a recent study that found vaccination in youths ages 12-18 reduced hospitalization from COVID-19 by 93 percent and the chance of winding up in intensive care by 100 percent.

“That’s a dramatic difference,” he said.

The Pfizer vaccine dose for children age 5-11 is expected to be one third the dose given to adults, and, like adults, children will need two injections three weeks apart, Chan said.

For adolescents who have already received the vaccine, side effects have been similar to those in some adults: some redness at the injection site and a bit of a fever that can be treated with rest and fluids, Chan said. A small percentage of kids may feel the effects a bit more, he said.

Three points for parents to consider about getting their children vaccinated:

  • For parents who contend that, even if their kids get COVID-19, they’re unlikely to get that sick from it, Chan said some kids who get COVID-19 will wind up long-haulers with damage to their lungs and other organs. And while he feels horrible seeing adults in their 80s coping with long-term effects, he said, parents should consider that for children, long COVID-19 effects will be with them the rest of their lives.

“The stakes are so much higher the younger you are,” Chan said.

  • For those who believe the vaccines were developed too quickly to be safe, Chan said science and statistics say otherwise.

Messenger RNA — the type of vaccine used by Pfizer and Moderna for COVID-19 — isn’t new. It’s been around for decades, Chan said. And like all vaccines, the one for COVID-19 is basically a playbook for the body to defend itself against a pathogen, he said.

The difference between the new COVID-19 vaccines and the development of others that have taken longer — a difference Chan said he’s never before seen in his lifetime — is that the government staked the vaccine developers, guaranteeing they wouldn’t be exposed to financial risk, and encouraged them to collaborate with all their competitors.

  • For parents of kids with heart conditions fearing they would be at increased risk from vaccination, Chan said incidents of myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart muscle) after vaccination have been extremely low, and nearly all children have completely recovered.

For a child with a heart condition, it’s even more important to avoid getting COVID-19, Chan said.

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