N'West Iowa gets COVID vaccines for kids

Dr. Nicole Woodley’s 10-year-old son has his sleeve rolled up as registered nurse Sheila Westfield gives him Pfizer’s pediatric version of the COVID-19 vaccine. Woodley is an OB-GYN at Sanford Health Rock Rapids Clinic and was excited to have her children immunized against the coronavirus.

REGIONAL—Children ages 5-11 in N’West Iowa can be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in time for Christmas as a pediatric version of the Pfizer immunization was recently granted emergency use authorization.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the emergency use authorization on Oct. 29 after the agency concluded a thorough evaluation on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy in children in that age group.

No serious side effects were detected in the 3,100 children who received the vaccine during the study period, and it was found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among children 5-11.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation to begin administering the vaccine to children on Nov. 2.

Medical clinics and county public health offices in the region began receiving their initial shipments of the doses this week and some already have started getting shots in kids’ arms.

Health Services of Lyon County director Melissa Stillson said her office ordered 300 initial pediatric doses, which arrived Monday, Nov. 8. Stillson sent 100 doses each to the Avera and Sanford clinics in Rock Rapids and kept 100 at the health office that also is located in the county seat community.

“Our patients in our county have ample opportunities to get the vaccine for ages 5-11, either with their health-care provider or they can do it through the public health office,” she said.

Her office began administering the pediatric vaccines Tuesday, Nov. 9, to a few clients that scheduled appointments that day. She likewise notified her office’s partners in the county’s school districts and business and church communities about the availability of the new vaccine program.

“We’re just basically waiting to see who is interested and who wants to move forward with that,” Stillson said.

Like the version of the Pfizer vaccine available to people 12 and older, the pediatric inoculation is a two-dose series in which the second shot is given 21 days after the first. However, the dosage itself is about one-third the amount of the adult version at 10 micrograms instead of 30 micrograms.

The smaller doses arrive frozen, but unlike the adult vaccines, they do not require the special ultracold storage on-site. Stillson said they can instead be stored in her office’s vaccine refrigerator for up to 10 weeks.

The Iowa Department of Public Health surveys local health departments every two weeks to learn which sites need to replenish their stock of COVID-19 vaccines to keep up with demand.

Sanford’s Rock Rapids Clinic held its first COVID-19 vaccine clinic for children 5-11 Tuesday and plans to hold another at 4:15-5:15 p.m. Nov. 16 and 18.

Tracy Schultz, the clinical supervisor who oversees that facility, encourages parents to call ahead to schedule appointment times for their children and that clinics are timed to best accommodate school and families’ work schedules during the week.

“We’ll continue to offer it past Nov. 18. These are just the ones that we set up here before the holidays hit and strongly encourage them to come in so they have their second dose before Christmas,” Schultz said.

Although the children’s version of the Pfizer vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective, some parents still may have questions regarding the new immunization.

Dr. Jeremy Segeleon, vice president and medical officer of Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD, answered questions about the vaccine from members of the public who tuned into a Facebook Live session Nov. 3.

“We know that parents want their children to be safe, they want them to be healthy and they want them to be happy so we want parents to make informed decisions,” Segeleon said. “This vaccine news was very exciting. The way I think about this is COVID to me has shifted to a vaccine-preventable disease.”

He pointed to the rigorous safety trials the vaccine went through before it was approved for emergency authorization as well as the care that went into determining the appropriate dosage size. He said the reasoning behind the smaller dose size was to use the least amount of the vaccine as possible while still getting the desired effect of protecting against COVID-19.

The main side effects of the vaccine in children are mild, temporary conditions such as sore arms, headaches, fatigue, fever or nausea. Segeleon said other more adverse conditions that have been connected to the Pfizer vaccine — such as myocarditis or pericarditis — have been rare in people younger than 30 and are milder than in naturally occurring instances.

Meanwhile, he noted the risk of severe illness with COVID-19 among children is greater than risks associated with the vaccine.

For instance, a multisystem inflammatory syndrome — a condition where different body parts become inflamed — is a serious complication that’s resulted from COVID-19 cases in kids. Children also can get long-haul cases of COVID-19 in which the virus’ symptoms linger after they recover.

“If we take this 5-11 age group, it’s approximately 8,300 hospitalizations and around 140 deaths. If you look at those numbers — those numbers are strikingly larger than a ‘bad flu year,’” Segeleon said.

He encouraged parents to speak with their pediatricians or primary health-care providers to answer other questions or concerns they have as well as to their children about the importance of getting the vaccine.

“Vaccinating as many people is our way out of this pandemic,” he said. “It also is a way, importantly, to return to normalcy as a society.”

Other sites in N’West Iowa that began receiving Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccines are Hegg Health Center in Rock Valley, Hawarden Regional Healthcare, Sheldon Hy-Vee, the O’Brien County Public Health Office in Primghar and Walmart in Sioux Center.

The Hawarden hospital began administering the pediatric doses Friday, Nov. 12, and plans to continue scheduling children’s appointments for the vaccine on Fridays going forward. Parents can sign up their children for an appointment online or call the hospital.

O’Brien County Public Health will hold a clinic 1:30-5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the courthouse in Primghar. Parents wanting to schedule their children for that clinic can do so at obriencountyvaccineclinic.as.me or call the office.

O'Brien County nurse administrator Kim Morran said it received its first shipment of 300 doses on Nov. 8 and sent 200 to Sanford Health's sites in the county. As of Nov. 12, the office has administered six pediatric doses.