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Roll up your sleeves: Kids’ turn arrives for COVID-19 shots

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Hugs with friends. Birthday parties indoors. Pillow fights. School children who got their first COVID-19 shots Nov. 3 said these are the pleasures they look forward to as the U.S. enters a major new phase in fighting the pandemic.

Health officials hailed shots for kids aged 5 to 11 as a major breakthrough after more than 18 months of illness, hospitalizations, deaths and disrupted education.

Kid-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cleared two final hurdles Nov. 2 — a recommendation from CDC advisers, followed by a green light from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With the federal government promising enough vaccine to protect the nation’s 28 million kids in this age group, pediatricians’ offices and hospitals began inoculating children, with schools, pharmacies and other locations planning to follow suit in the days ahead.

Brian Giglio, 40, of Alexandria, Virginia, brought his 8-year-old son Carter in for vaccination at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. The boy has Type 1 diabetes that puts him at risk for complications if he were to become infected.

“Carter is the last in our house to get vaccinated and he was always the one that we had the most concern about,’’ Giglio said.

The vaccine — one-third the dose given to older children and adults and administered with kid-sized needles — requires two doses three weeks apart, plus two more weeks for full protection to kick in. That means children who get vaccinated before Thanksgiving will be covered by Christmas.

“The timing before winter holidays is very fortunate,” said Dr. Jennifer Shu, whose Children’s Medical Group office in Decatur, Georgia. “This age group will be able to spend holidays with friends and family more safely than they have been able to since the start of the pandemic.”

Authorities said they expected a smooth rollout, unlike the chaos that plagued the national rollout of vaccines for adults nearly a year ago.

Walgreens planned to start kids’ vaccinations at their pharmacies soon and said parents could sign up online or by calling 1-800-Walgreens. CVS was also accepting appointments online and by phone for vaccinations at select pharmacies.

Government authorities said pediatricians and family doctors, whom parents depend on to give routine childhood vaccinations, could help build trust.

Dr. Ada Stewart, a Black family physician in Columbia, South Carolina, works at a clinic for underserved patients that has been giving COVID-19 shots to grandparents, parents and teens and said she’s ready to add younger children to the mix. She’s seen the toll the virus has taken on them — not just in family illness and death but with school disruptions, slipping grades and mental strain.

A Pfizer study of 2,268 children found the vaccine was almost 91% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. The FDA examined 3,100 vaccinated kids in concluding the shots are safe.

Some skeptics have questioned the need for kids to get vaccinated since they are less likely than adults to develop severe COVID-19. But with the delta variant, they get infected and transmit “just as readily as adults do,’’ Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a recent White House briefing.

Since the pandemic began, at least 94 children aged 5 to 11 have died from COVID-19, more than 8,300 have been hospitalized, and over 5,000 have developed a serious inflammatory condition linked to the coronavirus. Black and Latino youngsters and those with chronic conditions are among the hardest hit.

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