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‘It’s a big deal’: Eager Connecticut families line up for COVID-19 vaccines for youngest children

Octavius Demarco, 3, receives a vaccination at the Windsor Library as his mom Stephanie holds him close. The CDC gave final authorization over the weekend for children as young as 6 months old to receive by Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Octavius DeMarco, 3, receives a vaccination at the Windsor Library as his mom, Stephanie, holds him close. The CDC gave final authorization over the weekend for children as young as 6 months old to receive Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

A line of parents and small children began forming outside Windsor Library around 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, about a half hour before a mobile vaccine clinic was even scheduled to open.

“We’ve been waiting for so long,” Victoria Duke, a Windsor resident, said of this phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

After federal authorization over the weekend, vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna have been cleared for children between 6 months and 5 years old. It marks the first time in the pandemic that nearly everyone of any age is eligible for the vaccines.

Duke was at Windsor Library with her 3-year-old daughter. The mobile health clinic program is a partnership between Griffin Health and the state Department of Public Health.

“It was really exciting when my husband and I first got vaccinated, but since then, we’ve just been waiting on pins and needles,” she said. “And now it feels even more important because we have a 3-month-old at home who we’re trying to protect as well, so one step to a fully protected family today for us.”

Connecticut health providers, through the state, had pre-ordered about 27,000 doses of vaccines made for small children as of June 17, according to DPH. More doses were being ordered.

About half were from Pfizer, which involves a three-dose series for kids 6 months through 4 years old. The other half were from Moderna, which is a two-shot series for children 6 months through 5 years old.

DPH officials said in a statement Saturday that these vaccines will soon be available at pediatricians’ offices, pharmacies and public health clinics.

Vaccine uptake among the nation’s youngest children is expected to be lower than in older children and adult age groups. A recent survey from Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 38% of parents will wait to get their children the vaccine, while 27% said they will “definitely not” get their children vaccinated for COVID-19.

“We understand that there’s fatigue, vaccine fatigue,” said Angela Balfour, regional coordinator at DPH’s Health Equity Program. “What we try to do is to be really strategic and to be really targeted in where we go, so we’re looking at day care centers, any kind of summer camps, any place where during the summer there’s going to be young children.”

But parents in the 18% surveyed who said they’d vaccinate their young children right away have been eager to find immediate appointments for their little ones. Families in Connecticut described frustration with the limited options so far.

“It’s insane, because for every other age group, the vaccines were there and ready the day they were approved,” said Stephanie DeMarco outside the Windsor Library Tuesday. “We knew the approval was coming, and once again, it feels like we’re being left behind.”

DeMarco, who is from New Britain, said she eventually found information for the mobile vaccine clinic in Windsor through social media. This was after she had already called her family’s pediatrician and local pharmacies to see when they’d have vaccines available.

She stood in line with her 3-year-old son, Octavius, for his first dose.

“Everybody else has moved on, they’re going on about their lives, and we have little kids who have spent their whole lives not going places,” DeMarco said. “So, it’s really exciting to be here today. I’m probably going to cry when he gets it, honestly. It’s a big deal.”

The Windsor clinic was just one of seven pediatric mobile clinics held throughout the state Tuesday.

Myra Odenwaelder, assistant vice president of therapeutic services at Griffin, said it has been a priority to make the vaccines accessible to families as soon as possible.

“This age group has been without vaccine for quite some time,” she said. “We rolled out vaccine back in December of 2020, and a lot of time has passed. They are a vulnerable group and certainly deserving of vaccines.”

The mobile program has about 60 vaccination clinics scheduled in towns and cities throughout the state for the next two weeks, with more to come, Odenwaelder said.

For Itzel Kibler and her family, who live in Avon, the vaccine rollout for young children couldn’t come soon enough. She said they’ve been isolating for the better part of two and a half years to limit potential exposure to the virus.

“This will be a chance to actually do more things,” she said. “We’ll probably still mask, but we’ll be able to do more things and have them have baseline immunity.”

In Windsor on Tuesday, Kibler’s 9-month-old son and 3-year-old daughter each got their first dose of a Moderna vaccine.

“This means so much to me to finally be here,” she said. “The anxiety, I can feel it just lifting.”

Child Vaccination Resources

For information about the COVID-19 vaccine for young children, please see guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics or the CDC. For information about upcoming mobile clinics in Connecticut, see a list here. For vaccines at other locations, visit vaccines.gov.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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